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Indoor Air Quality and Cognitive Performance


  • Künn, Steffen

    () (Maastricht University)

  • Palacios, Juan

    () (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

  • Pestel, Nico

    () (IZA)


This paper studies the causal impact of indoor air quality on the cognitive performance of individuals using data from official chess tournaments. We use a chess engine to evaluate the quality of moves made by individual players and merge this information with measures of air quality inside the tournament venue. The results show that poor indoor air quality hampers cognitive performance significantly. We find that an increase in the indoor concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 10 μg/m3 increases a player's probability of making an erroneous move by 26.3%. The impact increases in both magnitude and statistical significance with rising time pressure. The effect of the indoor concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is smaller and only matters during phases of the game when decisions are taken under high time stress. Exploiting temporal as well as spatial variation in outdoor pollution, we provide evidence suggesting a short-term and transitory effect of fine particulate matter on cognition.

Suggested Citation

  • Künn, Steffen & Palacios, Juan & Pestel, Nico, 2019. "Indoor Air Quality and Cognitive Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 12632, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp12632

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Persico, Claudia & Johnson, Kathryn R., 2020. "Deregulation in a Time of Pandemic: Does Pollution Increase Coronavirus Cases or Deaths?," IZA Discussion Papers 13231, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Dainis Zegners & Uwe Sunde & Anthony Strittmatter, 2020. "Decisions and Performance Under Bounded Rationality: A Computational Benchmarking Approach," Papers 2005.12638,, revised Dec 2020.
    3. Künn, Steffen & Seel, Christian & Zegners, Dainis, 2020. "Cognitive Performance in the Home Office - Evidence from Professional Chess," Research Memorandum 021, Maastricht University, Graduate School of Business and Economics (GSBE).
    4. Pinchbeck, Edward W. & Roth, Sefi & Szumilo, Nikodem & Vanino, Enrico, 2020. "The Price of Indoor Air Pollution: Evidence from Radon Maps and the Housing Market," IZA Discussion Papers 13655, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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    More about this item


    indoor air quality; cognition; worker productivity; chess;

    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • Q50 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - General
    • Z20 - Other Special Topics - - Sports Economics - - - General

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