Poor Air Quality Linked to Cognitive Problems in Babies

A new study published today reveals an association between poor air quality in India and impaired cognition in infants under two.

Lead researcher Prof John Spencer, from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “Prior work has shown that poor air quality is linked to cognitive deficits in children, as well as to emotional and behavioral problems, which can have a severe impact on families.

“Very small particulate fragments in the air are a major concern as they can move from the respiratory tract into the brain.

“Until now, studies had failed to show a link between poor air quality and cognitive problems in babies, when brain growth is at its peak and the brain may be particularly sensitive to toxins. Our study is the first to show this association.

“We worked with families in rural India to see how in-home air quality affects infants’ cognition.”

They worked with families from a range of socio-economic backgrounds in Shivgarh, a rural community in Uttar Pradesh, one of the states in India that has been most strongly impacted by poor air quality.

They assessed the visual working memory and visual processing speed of 215 infants using a specially-designed cognition task from October 2017 to June 2019.

On one display, the tots were shown flashing coloured squares that were always the same after each ‘blink’. On a second display, one coloured square changed after each blink.

Prof Spencer said: “This task capitalizes on infant’s tendency to look away from something that’s visually familiar and towards something new. We were interested in whether infants could detect the changing side and how well they did as we made the task harder by including more squares on each display.”

“This research shows for the first time that there is an association between poor air quality and impaired visual cognition in the first two years of life, when brain growth is at its peak,” said Prof Spencer.

“Such impacts could carry forward across years, negatively impacting long-term development”.

Sources from: 

John P Spencer, Samuel H Forbes, Sophie Naylor, Vinay P Singh, Kiara Jackson, Sean Deoni, Madhuri Tiwari, Aarti Kumar. Poor air quality is associated with impaired visual cognition in the first two years of life: A longitudinal investigation. eLife, 2023; 12 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.83876

University of East Anglia. “Poor air quality linked to cognitive problems in babies.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 April 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230424223140.htm>.

Images from:

Photo by Juniper Photon