We are often challenged about the studies we choose to include in Autocase, or not. A Harvard study1 on how green office environments maybe linked with higher cognitive function scores is a good example. A pdf of the paper in question is available here and news release here.
We are always searching for research work that will help bolster the case for healthier buildings based on improved worker productivity, but when the cognitive scores from a study are considerably better than productivity improvements from previous studies, we need to look more closely.
We look deeper into questions like:
- Is the sample size large enough, or, in the case of time series studies, is the research period long enough to draw a definitive conclusion from the cognitive test results?
- Are cognitive (IQ) test results the right predictor of work performance, or are other models like the 3Q’s – emotion quotient, creativity quotient, and intelligence quotient – better predictors of productivity and time efficiency; or are direct measures to be preferred?
- And finally, if the study produces dramatically different results from previous studies, like those referenced by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, can the results be compared and reconciled? Is this an outlier or were the previou
- For that matter, if cognitive tests are to be used as a proxy for productivity, what categories of cognitive ability are driving the improvements – attention span, response speed, information usage? Depending on the workplace, that category detail will be important.
Does the study do sampling across a wide enough range of conditions to permit the calculation of a percentage increase in test scores? If the band of study is too specific or too broad, it may not be possible to generalize the results.
- And finally, if the study produces dramatically different results from previous studies, like those from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, can the results be compared and reconciled? Is this an outlier or were the previous studies not as advanced?
- The Harvard study results of cognitive scores are 61%-101% higher for VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and 22-367% better for CO2 are hard to reconcile versus the 0.5%-3.5% relative performance of previous studies.
All this is to say that we dig deeply into every study, and we aim to be as transparent as possible about our choices for inclusion. For more on our research grading scheme, read here. The benefits of research like that from Harvard are far-reaching in that they inspire additional, ongoing examination of workplace conditions. We all are the beneficiaries, especially now that Autocase puts that learning to work in building design.
P.S. We have tried to contact the authors about our concerns and questions. They have not replied. The study has for CO2 concentrations, an apparent mis-match between the stated results and the statistical table that we don’t understand. If the authors do reply, and they satisfy us, we’ll include their results. Until then, we’ll wait until other research corroborates their results.
1Allen, J. G., MacNaughton, P., Satish, U., Santanam, S., Vallarino, J., & Spengler, J. D. (2015). Associations of cognitive function scores with carbon dioxide, ventilation, and volatile organic compound exposures in office workers: a controlled exposure study of green and conventional office environments. Environmental health perspectives, 124(6), 805-812. link