When the temperature rises, you get sweaty and sticky. But hot weather can harm more than your comfort. During a heat wave, even healthy young adults can lose their ability to think at their best.

Jose Guillermo Cedeño-Laurent of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied 44 Boston-area college students. Some of the students lived in air-conditioned dorms, and some did not.

Each morning, he tested the students’ cognitive speed and working memory. And he found that as it got hotter, the students without A/C fared worse on the tests.

Cedeño-Laurent: “The reaction times of the students without air conditioning were about thirteen percent longer. The number of correct answers per minute was also lower.”

By reducing cognitive performance, heat can harm productivity – and not just in schools, but among workers, too.

Controlling inside temperatures can help.

Cedeño-Laurent: “Between seventy-two to seventy-three degrees Fahrenheit, there is an optimum for cognitive performance.”

But running the A/C contributes to climate change, which ultimately means more heat waves. So Cedeño-Laurent says we need to develop more sustainable ways to keep buildings cool.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...