Researchers Discover Prolonged Exposure to Extreme Climate can Affect Memory


Researchers from Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin obtained a unique opportunity to study to effects of extreme environmental conditions and social isolation. The effects of such conditions on the human brain are being studied in this project. The researchers discovered changes in the hippocampus area that is responsible for memory and spatial thinking.

Participants of this Study Displayed Change in Spatial Abilities of Brain

A German Antarctic research station, Neumayer-Station III, is operated by Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. Staying at the station means one has to withstand almost total darkness during the months of winter and temperature as low as -50 degrees-Celsius. There is little or no personal space of privacy for the ones living at the station. There is minimum contact with the world that exists outside the station. Furthermore, one cannot cut down the stay short, not even for a day. It is only during the summer months, deliveries of food and emergency evacuation are made possible. Summer months are relatively short in this part of the world.

The study was led by Alexander Stahn from the Charité’s Institute of Physiology and assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. He worked along with professor Simone Kühn. Kühn is the group leader of Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research supported this project. Intending to figure out whether an Antarctic expedition is capable of bringing functional and structural changes in the human brain, Professor Stahn initiated his project.

In this study, four women and five men voluntarily took part in the research. The participant spent a total of 14 months both after and during the mission. The entire project carried out in isolation with almost no contact with the outside world. The cognition test exhibited that both selective attention and spatial abilities can be changed.

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