To determine whether traffic-related pollution has an effect on learning, researchers from Barcelona’s Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology and Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research measured the development of 2,715 primary-school children. The team tested students’ memory and attentiveness four times over the course of one year, and compared the test results from low-pollution schools to those from schools with higher pollution levels.
Children attending schools with lower traffic-related pollution had larger increases in cognitive measurements than their counterparts at highly polluted schools. For example, tests showed an 11.5-percent increase in working memory (the ability to store and manipulate information) at less-polluted schools, and a 7.4-percent increase at schools with high pollution.
Learning and healthy air quality may go hand-in-hand. Children spend most of their time in schools, many of which are near traffic-clogged streets, factories, and other pollution centers. Their delicate minds have the potential to grow rapidly, but can progress more steadily in the right conditions.