Indoor CO 2 concentrations and cognitive function: A critical review

Indoor Air. 2020 Jun 19. doi: 10.1111/ina.12706. Online ahead of print.


Poor indoor air quality indicated by elevated indoor CO2 concentrations has been linked with impaired cognitive function, yet current findings of the cognitive impact of CO2 are inconsistent. This review summarizes the results from 37 experimental studies that conducted objective cognitive tests with manipulated CO2 concentrations, either through adding pure CO2 or adjusting ventilation rates (the latter also affects other indoor pollutants). Studies with varied designs suggested that both approaches can affect multiple cognitive functions. In a subset of studies that meet objective criteria for strength and consistency, pure CO2 at a concentration common in indoor environments was only found to affect high-level decision-making measured by the Strategic Management Simulation battery in non-specialized populations, while lower ventilation and accumulation of indoor pollutants, including CO2 , could reduce the speed of various functions but leave accuracy unaffected. Major confounding factors include variations in cognitive assessment methods, study designs, individual and populational differences in subjects, and uncertainties in exposure doses. Accordingly, future research is suggested to adopt direct air delivery for precise control of CO2 inhalation, include brain imaging techniques to better understand the underlying mechanisms that link CO2 and cognitive function, and explore the potential interaction between CO2 and other environmental stimuli.

Keywords: CO2 inhalation; decision-making; mental performance; productivity; ventilation; work performance.

Publication types

  • Review