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Climate change trauma has real effects on cognition and brain, study of wildfire survivors shows

Climate change trauma has real effects on cognition and brain, study of wildfire survivors shows


of research summary A short take on an interesting academic study.

big idea

Psychological trauma from extreme weather events such as wildfires and climate change can have long-lasting effects on survivors’ brains and cognitive function, especially how they process distractions, my team says. new research show.

With extreme heat, storm damage, and life-threatening events such as wildfires, climate change is increasingly impacting people around the world.of Research so far, colleagues, and I found that in the aftermath of the 2018 fire that devastated the town of Paradise, California, chronic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression increased among six affected communities. It has been shown to be highly prevalent for over a month. disaster.

We also saw a gradual effect. People whose homes and families were directly affected by fires had greater mental health harm than those whose homes and families were indirectly affected. rice field.

in the new researchPublished January 18, 2023, Neural Engineering and Translation Labor NEATLabs at the University of California, San Diego, wanted to understand whether symptoms of climate-change-related trauma lead to changes in cognitive function (mental processes involved in memory, learning, thinking, and reasoning). .

We assessed subjects’ cognitive function across a range of abilities, including attention. Responsive Inhibition – the ability not to react impulsively. Working memory – the ability to retain information in your mind for short periods of time. Interference Handling – Ability to ignore distractions. We also measured brain function while performing cognitive tasks using electroencephalograms obtained from electroencephalography (EEG).

A keyboard man with a knotted hat.
Wireless EEG caps record brain activity as a person responds to cognitive tests. The image on the right shows a significant difference in electrical brain activity recorded in the scalp between people directly exposed to wildfire and the control group, in the left frontal cortex (red) in the directly exposed group. I see more activity.
Grennan et al., 2022, PLOS Climate, CC BY

The study included three groups of individuals: those directly exposed to fire, those indirectly exposed to fire, and an unexposed control group. The groups were well matched for age and gender.

Both groups of people directly or indirectly exposed to fire were found to process distractions less accurately than the control group.

We also found differences in the brain processes underlying these cognitive differences. Wildfire-exposed people had more frontal lobe activity while dealing with distractions. Frontal lobe brain activity may be an indicator of cognitive effort, with fire-exposed people having more difficulty processing distractions and compensating for it by exerting more effort. suggests that it is possible.

why it matters

With climate change contributing to more disasters, understanding its impact on human health, including mental health, is critical. resilient mental health It enables recovery from traumatic experiences. How humans experience and mentally cope with climate change catastrophes will set the stage for our future lives.

there is strategies people can use Helps reduce stress. Psychosocial research is Mindfulness practice Developing a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and enough sleep can help protect your mental health in these scenarios. foster strong social bonds.

what’s next?

Much work needs to be done to understand whether the effects we found are reproducible in large sample studies. In this work, we focused on a total of 75 study participants.Scientists also need to understand how these effects evolve as climate disasters like wildfires occur more often.

We are also conducting research with community partners to implement interventions that can help mitigate the effects we have observed on brain and cognitive function. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each community must find resilience solutions that work best in their environmental context. As scientists, we can help them understand the causes and point out the most effective solutions to improve human health.




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