Effect of long-term outdoor air pollution and noise on cognitive and psychological functions in adults

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2015 Jan;218(1):1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2014.08.002. Epub 2014 Sep 3.


It has been hypothesized that air pollution and ambient noise might impact neurocognitive function. Early studies mostly investigated the associations of air pollution and ambient noise exposure with cognitive development in children. More recently, several studies investigating associations with neurocognitive function, mood disorders, and neurodegenerative disease in adult populations were published, yielding inconsistent results. The purpose of this review is to summarize the current evidence on air pollution and noise effects on mental health in adults. We included studies in adult populations (≥18 years old) published in English language in peer-reviewed journals. Fifteen articles related to long-term effects of air pollution and eight articles on long-term effects of ambient noise were extracted. Both exposures were separately shown to be associated with one or several measures of global cognitive function, verbal and nonverbal learning and memory, activities of daily living, depressive symptoms, elevated anxiety, and nuisance. No study considered both exposures simultaneously and few studies investigated progression of neurocognitive decline or psychological factors. The existing evidence generally supports associations of environmental factors with mental health, but does not suffice for an overall conclusion about the independent effect of air pollution and noise. There is a need for studies investigating simultaneously air pollution and noise exposures in association mental health, for longitudinal studies to corroborate findings from cross-sectional analyses, and for parallel toxicological and epidemiological studies to elucidate mechanisms and pathways of action.

Keywords: Air pollution; Cognitive function; Dementia; Depression; Noise; Particulate matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Mood Disorders / chemically induced
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / chemically induced
  • Noise / adverse effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Air Pollutants