CO2 Levels in Rooms Can Diminish Cognitive Function

Since so many of kids are spending more time indoors because of the pandemic, I just wanted to share this article from Smithsonian Magazine by Joseph Stromberg, discussing a study about the effect of CO2 on thinking: Carbon Dioxide in a Crowded Room Can Make You Dumber.

The article points out that occupied rooms can easily have CO2 levels of 1,000ppm or higher: “Decision-making decreased moderately at 1,000 ppm as measured on seven of the nine scales, with decreases ranging from 11 to 23 percent, and significantly on those same scales at 2,500 ppm, with decreases of 44 to 94 percent. The most dramatic effects were found in the participants’ ability to engage in strategic thinking and take initiative.”

Note the most dramatic impact is on executive function!

Even a single occupant in a small room can raise CO2 levels into this range. I already knew all this, but for those stuck at home working and studying in small rooms, it can be hard to know how much anything we do, like opening windows, or keeping a door open during the day, or the house heating system, improves ventilation and CO2 levels. Students may need to keep their doors closed in order to maintain peace and quiet, but that has to be balanced against pragmatic steps to keep CO2 levels to a healthy level.

As I wrote in a previous post, a surprising number of schools don’t measure up when it comes to proper ventilation. Nevertheless, many schools and workplaces do pay attention to proper ventilation, something we take for granted. With people at home for long stretches of time, and college students having to work from the dorm rooms, it’s up to us to pay attention to the issue.

So I bit the bullet and bought a well-reviewed CO2 monitor, and it showed levels 1,000-1,500 when we plugged it in.  Now we can make adjustments based on data to keep those levels closer to what’s outside, which is around 380ppm according to the article.   

Especially if there are other reasons a child has difficulties, maintaining indoor air quality is so important to their health and school performance.  I have done a lot of personal research on the issue of indoor air quality in indoor spaces and health, and CO2 levels aren’t anywhere near the top of the list of concerns. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. I hope this information about CO2 helps people to more easily make decisions about improved ventilation and air quality related to Covid control, too.