Facemask use has lesser consequences on indicators of cognitive performance than expected

October 07, 2020

A novel study shows that facemask use does not affect indicators of cognitive performance when the wearers are resting or performing moderate physical work in hot environments. However, wearing a facemask does make it more difficult to breathe when performing moderate physical work in a hot environment. The study is conducted by researchers at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen in collaboration with the European research consortium 'HEAT-SHIELD'.

Facemasks are mandatory by law in many countries and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent spreading of the COVID-19 virus. However, experts and lay people alike have raised concerns that working with a facemask may aggravate heat stress, thermal discomfort and increase perceived breathlessness (dyspnea) - which eventually could impair cognitive function, concentration and jeopardize occupational safety.

The only measure worsened by wearing a mask was feelings of breathlessness

Now a study shows that facemask usage has lesser consequences on indicators of cognitive performance than expected, when the wearers are resting or performing moderate physical work in normal work-wear in hot environments. This cognitive testing battery consisted of four different math and fine motor skill tasks that were performed in a random order on a computer.

During testing, body temperature and thermal discomfort did increase in both trials, but not to a greater degree while wearing a mask. However, the study also showed that wearing a facemask does make it more difficult to breathe when performing moderate physical work in a hot environment.

Professor in human physiology at University of Copenhagen and coordinator for the HEAT-SHIELD project, Lars Nybo explains:

"We utilized an experimental set-up that mimics tasks completed in many occupations and a protocol previously used to explore how heat-stress and dehydration markedly impair performance in tasks relying on the ability to concentrate and conduct complex motor-cognitive tasks. Although prolonged exposure with facemasks while wearing normal work-wear in a thermal stressing environment elevated thermal discomfort in both trials, it did not lower scores in any of the motor-cognitive tasks that the participants completed. Indeed, the only measure worsened by wearing a mask was feelings of breathlessness."

The researchers therefore conclude that facemasks do not directly impair concentration or indicators of cognitive performance - but they may restrict physically demanding work when the restraint on respiration becomes an issue.

Facts about the study

Eight healthy, active males, aged 27 - 41, participated in the study. On two different occasions, one with a facemask and one with a bare face, participants sat in a climatic chamber regulated at 40°C and 20% humidity for 30 min to become accustomed to the testing conditions. After which they exercised for 45 minutes at an intensity that simulates occupations with manual work.

Physiological, perceptual (thermal comfort and breathlessness) and motor-cognitive measurements (consisting of four different computer tasks relying on math ability and fine motor precision) were taken immediately before and after the bout of exercise.
-end-
About HEAT-SHIELD

HEAT-SHIELD is dedicated to address the negative impact of increased workplace heat stress on the health and productivity of five strategic European industries: manufacturing, construction, transportation, tourism and agriculture.

The consortium consists of a group of twelve research institutions, two policy-making organizations, four industrial entities and two civil society organization from across the EU.

Read more about HEAT-SHIELD.

Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen

Related Cognitive Performance Articles from Brightsurf:

Performance test for neural interfaces
Freiburg researchers develop guidelines to standardize analysis of electrodes.

Cognitive performance - Better than our predecessors
We employ our cognitive skills daily to assimilate and process information.

Facemask use has lesser consequences on indicators of cognitive performance than expected
A novel study shows that facemask use does not affect indicators of cognitive performance when the wearers are resting or performing moderate physical work in hot environments.

Poor cognitive performance predicts impairment in activities of daily living years later
Subtle differences in cognition may help identify individuals at risk for becoming dependent years later upon others to complete daily activities, such as managing medications or finances and other essential activities.

Type 2 diabetes linked to worse cognitive performance after a stroke; prediabetes not linked, but prevention needed
An analysis of seven international studies found people with Type 2 diabetes, but not those with prediabetes, had worse cognitive function three to six months after a stroke.

Neighborhood and cognitive performance in middle-age: Does racial residential segregation matter?
A study at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that black subjects who were exposed to highly segregated neighborhoods in young adulthood exhibited worse performance in cognitive skills in mid-life.

Big ideas in performance management 2.0
Industrial-era performance management paradigms and practices are outdated and ineffective in the modern VUCA work environment.

Anticipating performance can hinder memory
Anticipating your own performance at work or school may hinder your ability to remember what happened before your presentation, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.

Want to optimize sales performance?
CATONSVILLE, MD, September 16, 2019- According to new research published in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science, companies can improve sales performance when they adjust sales commissions for the sale of more popular items.

Abnormal gut bugs tied to worse cognitive performance in vets with PTSD and cirrhosis
A study involving military veterans with PTSD and cirrhosis of the liver points to an abnormal mix of bacteria in the intestines as a possible driver of poor cognitive performance -- and as a potential target for therapy.

Read More: Cognitive Performance News and Cognitive Performance Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.