This shows a brain.
The paper also explores the role that neuroscience can play in influencing the way we think about climate change, our judgments and how we respond. Credit: Neuroscience News

Warming World, Changing Minds: Climate’s Effect on the Brain

Summary: A new study highlights the potential impact of climate change on human brain function. This international collaboration points out that environmental factors, including extreme weather events and air pollution, could significantly alter brain structure and cognitive abilities.

The research underscores the need for further studies to understand how climate-induced stressors affect mental health and brain development. Additionally, it emphasizes the role of neuroscience in shaping our response to climate change.

Key Facts:

  1. The study suggests environmental changes due to climate change could lead to alterations in brain development and function.
  2. Researchers are particularly concerned about the effects of extreme weather events and pollution on cognitive abilities and mental health.
  3. The paper calls for an intersection of neuroscience and environmental studies to better understand and address these impacts.

Source: University of Exeter

A new element of the catastrophic impacts of climate change is emerging – how global warming is impacting the human brain.

In a paper published today in Nature Climate Change, an international team of academics explore the ways in which research has shown that a changing environment affects how our brains work, and how climate change could impact our brain function in the future.

The paper is led by the University of Vienna with input from the universities of Geneva, New York, Chicago, Washington, Stanford, Exeter in the UK and the Max Plank Institute in Berlin. It also explores the role that neuroscientists can play in further understanding and addressing these challenges.

Lead author Dr Kimberly C. Doell, of the University of Vienna, said: “We’ve long known that factors in our environment can lead to changes in the brain. Yet we’re only just beginning to look at how climate change, the greatest global threat of our time, might change our brains.

“Given the increasingly frequent extreme weather events we’re already experiencing, alongside factors such as air pollution, the way we access nature and the stress and anxiety people experience around climate change, it’s crucial that we understand the impact this could all have on our brains. Only then can we start to find ways to mitigate these changes.”

Since the 1940s, scientists have known from mouse studies that changing environmental factors can profoundly change the development and plasticity of the brain. This effect as also been seen in humans in research looking at the effects of growing up in poverty, which found disturbances to brain systems, including lack of cognitive stimulation, exposure to toxins, poor nutrition, and heightened childhood stress.

While not entirely surprising, this research highlights the profound impact that one’s environment can have on their brain.

Now, the authors are calling for research to explore the impact on the human brain of being exposed to more extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, and hurricanes, and associated forest fires and floods. They believe such events may change brain structure, function, and overall health, and also call for more research to evaluate how this may explain changes in well-being and behaviour.

The paper also explores the role that neuroscience can play in influencing the way we think about climate change, our judgments and how we respond.

Dr Mathew White, of the Universities of Exeter and Vienna, is a co-author on the study. He said: “Understanding neural activity that is relevant to motivations, emotions and temporal horizons may help predict behaviour, and improve our understanding of, underlying barriers preventing people from behaving as pro-environmentally as they might wish. Both brain function and climate change are highly complex areas.

” We need to start seeing them as interlinked, and to take action to protect our brains against the future realities of climate change, and start using our brains better to cope with what is already happening and prevent the worse-case scenarios.”

About this environmental neuroscience research news

Author: Louise Vennells
Source: University of Exeter
Contact: Louise Vennells – University of Exeter
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Leveraging Neuroscience for Climate Change Research” by Kimberly C. Doell et al. Nature Climate Change


Leveraging Neuroscience for Climate Change Research

Anthropogenic climate change poses a substantial threat to societal living conditions. Here, we argue that neuroscience can substantially contribute to the fight against climate change and provide a framework and a roadmap to organize and prioritize neuroscience research in this domain.

We outline how neuroscience can be used to: (1) investigate the negative impact of climate change on the human brain; (2) identify ways to adapt; (3) understand the neural substrates of decisions with pro-environmental and harmful outcomes; and (4) create neuroscience-based insights into communication and intervention strategies that aim to promote climate action.

The paper is also a call to action for neuroscientists to join broader scientific efforts to tackle the existential environmental threats Earth is currently facing.

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