New Study: Exposure to Air Pollution Leads to Lower Verbal, Math Test Scores

Washington, D.C.: While health has long been thought the most common casualty of air pollution, a landmark study from an International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) researcher establishes for the first time that exposure to air pollution over a long period significantly impacts cognitive abilities, as measured through steep reduction in verbal and math tests scores.   

“Long-term exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and math tests,” said study author Xiaobo Zhang, senior research fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and distinguished chair professor of economics at Peking University. “The damage on cognitive ability by air pollution also likely impedes the development of human capital. Therefore, a narrow focus on the negative effect on health may underestimate the total cost of air pollution. Our findings on the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition imply that the indirect effect of pollution on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought,” Zhang added.

While the health consequences of air pollution are well known, few studies have examined its impact on cognitive abilities. The study, “The impact of exposure to air pollution on cognitive performance, co-authored by IFPRI’s Xiaobo Zhang, Xin Zhang of Beijing Normal University, and Xi Chen of Yale University, was published in the latest issue of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Photo credit: James Riker