Unlocking Imagination: Clean Air Found to Enhance Creative Thinking Skills


Camfil, the industry expert in clean air solutions, has collaborated with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) on a scientific research study that sought to examine the impact of high levels of volatile organic compounds (gases released from products) on the creativity of participants tasked with constructing 3D models using LEGO® bricks.

The study, published this month in the journal Scientific Reports, found that exposure to elevated levels of indoor air pollutants, specifically volatile organic compounds (VOCs), was associated with a measurable decline in creative thinking and performance.

“While the impacts of poor indoor air quality on respiratory health have been well-documented, this is the first study to clearly demonstrate that it can also impair cognitive abilities like creativity,” said Dr. Ng Bing Feng, an assistant professor of environmental health at Nanyang Technological University and the study’s lead author.

The study recruited 87 participants who were periodically exposed to varying levels of common indoor pollutants over six weeks while completing building challenges using LEGO bricks. The LEGO structures were then assessed by independent raters for qualities like originality, complexity and execution.

“What we found was that when VOC levels were higher, the LEGO structures were rated significantly lower in terms of overall creativity,” Dr. Ng said. “This suggests that exposure to indoor air pollutants can negatively impact imagination, problem-solving and other higher-order cognitive skills.”

VOCs are emitted by a wide range of common household and office products, like paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, new furnishings and office equipment. According to the researchers, VOC levels indoors are generally 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors, and have been increasing as buildings become more airtight.

The study found that reducing VOC levels by just 72% enhanced creativity scores by 11.5%. “Even VOC levels well below accepted standards had a measurable effect on creative performance,” Dr. Ng said. “This highlights the need for people to be more aware of indoor air quality and take steps to minimize exposure to pollutants.”

Simple strategies include increasing ventilation, using low-VOC products and adding air purifying plants. “Making clean indoor air a priority could help unlock creative potential in schools, workplaces and homes,” Dr. Ng said.

“Camfil has been involved in a number of scientific studies over the years demonstrating the correlation between clean indoor air and human performance. This study is a very interesting approach to identify new aspects of how the air we breathe has a direct impact on our cognitive abilities” says Guillaume Gallet, President Molecular Contamination Control at Camfil.

The researchers plan to conduct further studies to better understand the neurological mechanisms linking air pollutants and cognitive function. But they said the takeaway is clear: clean air is not just healthy to breathe, but may also allow minds to thrive and reach new creative heights.

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