Taking Tests in a Heat Wave is Not So Hot

You know the feeling: It’s like a sauna outside. Sweat pours down your face and body. You drink gallons of water and still can’t get cool. You don’t want to exert much physical effort. The dog days of summer are here, but with a heightened intensity. Record-breaking heat in the U.S.—with North Texas seeing triple digit temperatures for days on end and daytime highs in Southern California reaching 117 degrees F—along with soaring global temps put many people at risk for dehydration and heat stroke. It’s August and the heat is on.

A new study suggests that a heat-induced “muddled” brain can affect the way you learn—more so than just feeling uncomfortable. Researchers studied two groups of students during a heat wave. One group lived in air conditioned apartments that were cooled to 71 degrees F. The other group’s living spaces were not air conditioned and averaged about 80 degrees F. The students were given tests that assessed their math skills, speed, memory and attention as soon as they woke up for 12 days.

Students who lived in the air conditioned buildings answered more questions correctly and had faster response times than the students who lived in hotter buildings. The researchers noted that their study is just one more sign that heat stress can have a negative effect on the mind as well as the body. Although previous studies suggest that, in some cases, heat stress reduces blood flow to the brain, it’s unclear how heat impacts cognitive skills and scientists have much more to learn about the body’s response to extreme heat.

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If you like the heat, it’s okay to soak up some rays and enjoy the warmth. Just remember to take steps to protect your skin and kidneys. And if you have test-taking in your future, make sure your air conditioner is working!

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