Dull and dirty: Your workplace could affect brain function

June 16, 2016, Florida State University
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A new study by a Florida State University researcher shows that both a lack of stimulation in the workplace and a dirty working environment can have a long-term cognitive effect on employees.

"Psychologists say that the brain is a muscle, while industrial hygienists point to chemicals in the work environment that may cause decline," said Joseph Grzywacz, the Norejane Hendrickson Professor of Family and Child Sciences and lead researcher on the study.

"There are real things in the workplace that can shape cognitive function: some that you can see or touch, and others you can't. We showed that both matter to in adulthood."

In the past, researchers had been divided on whether it was working in an unclean workplace—facing exposure to agents such as mold, lead or loud noises—or working in an unstimulating environment that took the biggest toll on brain health as people aged.

This new study is significant because it showed both can play an important role in long-term cognitive well-being.

Grzywacz' findings are published in the June issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.Grzywacz and his team obtained cognitive function data from working adults participating in the Midlife in the United States study. Their results had two major takeaways: One was that greater occupational complexity—that is the learning of new skills and taking on new challenges—resulted in stronger cognitive performance particularly for women as they aged.

The second result was that men and women who had jobs that exposed them to a dirty working environment saw a .

"Both of these issues are important when we think about the long-term health of men and women," said Grzywacz, who also serves as the chair of the Department of Family and Child Sciences.

Grzywacz and colleagues analyzed the data to examine individuals' workplaces and their ability to maintain and later use information they learned. They also looked at their executive functioning skills such as their ability to complete tasks, manage time and pay attention. Additionally, the data included responses from participants asking them about any memory issues they were experiencing.

"The practical issue here is cognitive decline associated with aging and the thought of, 'if you don't use it, you lose it,'" Grzywacz said. "Designing jobs to ensure that all workers have some decision making ability may protect cognitive function later in life, but it's also about cleaning up the workplace."

The data included 4,963 adults ages 32 to 84 from the 48 contiguous states. The sample was 47 percent male and 53 percent female.

Explore further: Higher fluctuations in blood pressure linked to brain function decline

Related Stories

Higher fluctuations in blood pressure linked to brain function decline

May 23, 2016
Higher long-term variability in blood pressure readings were linked to faster declines in brain and cognitive function among older adults, according to new research in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension.

Late-term birth associated with better school-based cognitive functioning

June 6, 2016
Better measures of school-based cognitive function were associated with late-term infants born at 41 weeks but those children performed worse on a measure of physical functioning compared with infants born full term at 39 ...

No risk association observed for anthracycline chemotherapy, cognitive decline

April 21, 2016
New data analyses found no association between anthracycline chemotherapy and greater risk of cognitive decline in breast cancer survivors, according to an article published online by JAMA Oncology.

The social lives of the elderly mirror how they grow older

May 2, 2016
Small changes in the social lives of older people are early red flags showing that their thought processes and brain functioning could be on the decline. This is according to Ashwin Kotwal of Brigham and Women's Hospital ...

Recommended for you

How do we lose memory? A STEP at a time, researchers say

March 23, 2018
In mice, rats, monkeys, and people, aging can take its toll on cognitive function. A new study by researchers at Yale and Université de Montréal reveal there is a common denominator to the decline in all of these species—an ...

Brain's tiniest blood vessels trigger spinal motor neurons to develop

March 23, 2018
A new study has revealed that the human brain's tiniest blood vessels can activate genes known to trigger spinal motor neurons, prompting the neurons to grow during early development. The findings could provide insights into ...

Being hungry shuts off perception of chronic pain

March 22, 2018
Pain can be valuable. Without it, we might let our hand linger on a hot stove, for example. But longer-lasting pain, such as the inflammatory pain that can arise after injury, can be debilitating and costly, preventing us ...

From signal propagation to consciousness: New findings point to a potential connection

March 22, 2018
Researchers at New York University have discovered a novel mechanism through which information can be effectively transmitted across many areas in the brain—a finding that offers a potentially new way of understanding how ...

Using simplicity for complexity—new research sheds light on the perception of motion

March 22, 2018
A team of biologists has deciphered how neurons used in the perception of motion form in the brain of a fly —a finding that illustrates how complex neuronal circuits are constructed from simple developmental rules.

Focus on early stage of illness may be key to treating ALS, study suggests

March 22, 2018
A new kind of genetically engineered mouse and an innovation in how to monitor those mice during research have shed new light on the early development of an inherited form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.