Alterations in cognitive performance during passive hyperthermia are task dependent

Int J Hyperthermia. 2011;27(1):1-9. doi: 10.3109/02656736.2010.516305. Epub 2010 Nov 11.


The objectives of this study were to (1) assess the effect of passive heating upon attention and memory task performance, and (2) evaluate the effectiveness of the application of cold packs to the head on preserving these functions. Using a counter-balance design 16 subjects underwent three trials: a control (CON, 20°C, 40% rH), hot (HOT, 50°C, 50% rH) and hot with the head kept cool (HHC). In each condition, three attention tests and two memory tests were performed. Mean core, forehead and tympanic temperatures were all significantly higher (p < 0.05) during HOT (38.6° ±0.1°, 39.6° ± 0.2° and 38.8°±0.1°C, respectively) and HHC (38° ± 0.2, 37.7° ± 0.3° and 37.7°C, respectively) than in CON (37.1° ± 0.6°, 33.3° ± 0.2° and 35.9° ± 0.3°C, respectively). Results indicate that there was impairment in working memory with heat exposure (p < 0.05) without alteration in attentional processes. The regular application of cold packs only prevented the detrimental effect of hyperthermia on short-term memory. Our results show that impairments in cognitive function with passive hyperthermia and the beneficial effect of head cooling are task dependent and suggests that exposure to a hot environment is a competing variable to the cognitive processes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Body Temperature
  • Cognition*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Female
  • Fever / physiopathology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Head
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Reaction Time