Indoor Air Quality and Cognitive Performance

45 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2019 Last revised: 16 Apr 2023

See all articles by Steffen Künn

Steffen Künn

University of Potsdam

Juan Palacios

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Nico Pestel



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.

Keywords: cognition, indoor air quality, worker productivity, chess

JEL Classification: D91, I1, J24, Q50, Z20

Suggested Citation

Künn, Steffen and Palacios, Juan and Pestel, Nico, Indoor Air Quality and Cognitive Performance. IZA Discussion Paper No. 12632, Available at SSRN: or

Steffen Künn (Contact Author)

University of Potsdam ( email )

August-Bebel Strasse 89
Potsdam, 14482

Juan Palacios

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Nico Pestel

IZA ( email )

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