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You might think helmets make you look stupid, but do they actually make you stupid?

Seriously, Science?By Seriously ScienceJanuary 9, 2014 6:00 PM


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Fig. 1: The setup with a participant carrying out the simultaneous visual vigilance and tracking test (VTT) and auditory vigilance test (AVT). The helmet shown here was not used in the study. We all know that wearing helmets when riding bicycles or motorcycles is important for protecting our precious gray matter. But they also tend to be hot and uncomfortable, which might distract the wearer in stressful situations. Here, three English scientists set out to test this hypothesis: does wearing a helmet in warm windy conditions distract you and make you stupider? The researchers had participants wear the most comfortable of three motorcycle helmets while sitting in an 80-degree wind-tunnel and simultaneously performing computer-based mental acuity tests. The result? Helmets may be hot and sweaty, but they don't make you stupider. And one more excuse not to wear a helmet bites the dust. (Thankfully.)The effect of a helmet on cognitive performance is, at worst, marginal: A controlled laboratory study. "The present study looked at the effect of a helmet on cognitive performance under demanding conditions, so that small effects would become more detectible. Nineteen participants underwent 30 min of continuous visual vigilance, tracking, and auditory vigilance (VTT + AVT), while seated in a warm environment (27.2 (±0.6) °C, humidity 41 (±1)%, and 0.5 (±0.1) m s-1 wind speed). The participants wore a helmet in one session and no helmet in the other, in random order. Comfort and temperature perception were measured at the end of each session. Helmet-wearing was associated with reduced comfort (p = 0.001) and increased temperature perception (p < 0.001), compared to not wearing a helmet. Just one out of nine cognitive parameters showed a significant effect of helmet-wearing (p = .032), disappearing in a post-hoc comparison. These results resolve previous disparate studies to suggest that, although helmets can be uncomfortable, any effect of wearing a helmet on cognitive performance is at worst marginal." Related content: NCBI ROFL: Super Bowl double feature: wardrobe malfunctions and helmet evolution. NCBI ROFL: The mystery of the missing Viking helmets. NCBI ROFL: Umpires need sports medicine too, you know!

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