Does exposure to air pollution in schools affect attention processes and decision-making in adolescents? This is the question posed by ATENC!Ó, a citizen-science initiative coordinated by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the Research Centre for Science and Mathematics Education (CRECIM), and financed by RecerCaixa.
Whenever the ATENC!Ó team visits a high school, we start by randomly splitting the participating students into two groups. The groups are then sent to different classrooms, where they spend the next two hours doing the same activities. One of the classrooms is equipped with an air purifier that cleans the air. The other room also has an air purifier, but its filters have been removed, so the air is recirculated but not cleaned.
To date, ten municipalities located in the province of Barcelona –Badalona, Barcelona, Cornellà, Granollers, Matadepera, Montcada i Reixac, la Roca del Vallès, Sabadell, Santa Coloma de Gramenet and Sant Andreu de la Barca–, 23 secondary schools and 1,500 students have taken part: Institut Barri Besòs, Institut Les Corts, Institut Matadepera, Institut Moisès Broggi, Institut Juan Manuel Zafra, Escola Joan Pelegrí, Col·legi Santíssima Trinitat, Institut de Cornellà, Institut La Ribera, IES Valldemosa, IES Puig Castellar, IES Vedruna Gràcia, IES Jaume Balmes, INS Isaac Albéniz, Escola L’Horitzó, Col·legi Sagrada Família-Horta, IES Verdaguer, IES Montserrat Roig, Institut Sabadell, Institut Marta Estrada, Institut de la Roca del Vallès and Institut Celestí Bellera.
To date, seven municipalities located in the province of Barcelona –Badalona, Barcelona, Granollers, la Roca del Vallès, Montcada i Reixac, Sabadell and Sant Andreu de la Barca–, 23 secondary schools and 1,500 students have taken part
“Is this the classroom with the purified air? What’s the other classroom like? What does this gadget do?” These are the kinds of questions we hear from students as the experiment is getting underway. After the experiment, they always want to know if there were any differences between their room and the other group’s room. They want to compare the temperature, the smells and the instruments to figure out which room had the filter and which one did not.
At the most recent sessions, we used a new instrument that has prompted questions from the curious, such as “Are you recording us?” But the instrument in question—called a sound level meter—does not record voices. It measures sound pressure, a variable known to affect attention in adolescents.
During the experiment, the students take two computer-based tests designed to measure their attention and reasoning capacity. At first glance, the tests don’t seem terribly complicated, but afterwards the students always say that they required lots of concentration.
The students take two computer-based tests designed to measure their attention and reasoning capacity
Since January, we have also been administering a student-designed questionnaire. A few months ago, we asked students to come up with a list of factors that might affect their attention and design a questionnaire to measure those factors.
Many of the questions cover familiar ground: number of hours slept, amount of physical activity per week, etc. But some of them—notably “Are you in love?”—venture into unexpected territory. Students are always happy to see their own questions on the questionnaire and proud of their contribution to the research process. At the end of the project, we will see whether the results of the attention tests are sensitive to the students’ answers to the questionnaire.
We are very grateful to all the students who have taken part in the project. The time these young volunteers have invested in the project will improve our understanding of how air pollution affects attention capacity. We would also like to thank all the teachers and other staff at the participating schools for their valuable help and collaboration.
The ATENC!Ó team is looking forward to visiting the rest of the participating schools and to sharing preliminary findings on 18 June at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB). The participating schools have been invited to attend, either virtually or in person.
Does exposure to pollution have a detrimental effect on students’ attention? Soon we will have more clues.
VIDEO: ATENC!Ó Project Kicks Off with a Pilot Test in Barcelona
POST: Comienza el trabajo de campo del proyecto ATENC!Ó, ¡nos vamos a las escuelas!