October 27, 2015

Study finds work environment significantly impacts cognitive behavior

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo
Study participants' cognitive function was measured daily within the environmentally controlled space at the Total Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at the Syracuse Center of Excellence.

Green building environments significantly improve workers' cognitive abilities, according to a new study funded by United Technologies and its UTC Climate, Controls & Security business.

The double-blind study evaluated the cognitive performance of 24 participants who experienced conditions in a laboratory setting that simulate those found in conventional and green buildings, as well as green buildings with enhanced ventilation. Researchers measured cognitive function for nine functional domains, including basic, applied and focused activity levels; task orientation; crisis response; information seeking; information usage; breadth of approach; and strategy.

"When it comes to the decision-making ability of green building occupants, intelligence is in the air," said John Mandyck, UTC's chief sustainability officer. "We know green buildings conserve natural resources, minimize environmental impacts and improve the indoor environment, but these results show they can also become important human resource tools for all indoor environments where cognitive abilities are critical to productivity, learning and safety.

Among the findings:

  • Crisis response scores were 97 percent higher for the green environment and 131 percent higher for the green environment with enhanced ventilation and lower carbon dioxide levels compared to the conventional environment.
  • Information usage scores for green and enhanced green environments were 172 and 299 percent higher than in the conventional environment, respectively.
  • For strategy, green and enhanced green scores were 183 and 288 percent higher than the conventional environment.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University. It was done at the Total Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems in Syracuse, New York, and took place over the course of six workdays spread across a two-week period.

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