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Exposure to air pollution increases a person’s tendency to make mistakes, a new study shows. Chess players who were exposed to fine particulate matter in air pollution made more frequent – and more serious – mistakes during play than when not exposed.

The study involved 121 elite chess players. Researchers measured the players' exposure to air pollutants during tournament play over a period of about three years. Then, using artificial intelligence, they assessed the players' performance during each of the tournaments.

They found that a modest increase in particulate matter of just 10 micrograms per cubic meter increased a player’s probability of making a mistake by more than 26 percent. In general, this modest increase raised mistake severity by nearly 11 percent. However, later in the matches, when decision-making time became limited, the increase in the particulate matter raised mistake severity by more than 20 percent.

Particulate matter in air pollution is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets. It is present in fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrograms or less. Evidence suggests that exposure to particulate matter in air pollution promotes oxidative stress, increases the risk of developing many chronic diseases, and accelerates aging.

These findings suggest that exposure to particulate matter in air pollution impairs decision-making and increases mistakes. Such findings may have relevance for people who work in professions that require strategic decision-making while experiencing exposure to particulate matter, such as firefighters or air traffic controllers, or for those who live or work downwind from pollution sources.

People who live in highly urban environments near busy roads may wish to consider using a high-quality air purifier such as a HEPA filter to help reduce their exposure to particulate matter.

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