Speed Match feeling slower during the snowy seasons? Trouble with Raindrops when it’s raining outside? As the winter wears on outside of Lumosity’s San Francisco headquarters, we’re pondering this question: can bad weather be bad for your brain?
The changing seasons can have very serious consequences; in some cases, it even leads to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a seasonally recurring depression that is thought to be related to limited sunlight exposure during winter months. While SAD is a serious clinical condition, we’re all familiar with the gloomy feelings that accompany the long nights and overcast days of winter, and research shows that about half of non-depressed people have some degree of SAD symptoms during the winter.
For the last 20 years, researchers have known that weather, especially seasonal changes in weather related to sunlight exposure, can dramatically affect peoples’ moods and feelings. But did you know that the seasons can also impact your memory, speed and other cognitive processes?
In a study published in the journal, Psychological Science, scientists at the University of Michigan studied the effects of weather changes on students’ mood and cognitive abilities. The study found that students’ mood ratings and memory performance on a digit-span test improved when the weather was better, especially on days with more sunlight. In an experimental manipulation, students who took a memory assessment indoors performed worse than students who took the same test outdoors on a warm, sunny day.
Given that research suggests a link between warm weather and enhanced cognition, we turned to our own database of cognitive performance to assess the effects of the seasons on Lumosity game performance. Do we see the same dip in cognitive performance during the winter?
We measured baseline scores on a challenging memory exercise, Memory Matrix, which people played for the first time throughout the year. Data was restricted to adults in North America, to control for seasonal differences in daylight and weather in the Southern Hemisphere. We found that those who started playing Memory Matrix during the winter months (December, January, and February) had significantly lower initial scores than those who started playing during the three other seasons. However, after just five sessions of training, winter Memory Matrix scores improved as much or even more than those in other seasons. By the fifth training session, Memory Matrix scores had improved and were at about the same level across all seasons.
So though initial game scores affirmed prior research linking bad weather to poor performance, we also found that people can significantly improve memory in any season.
If the winter blues have you feeling down, don’t fret—spring is just around the corner. While you may feel a little less sharp at the moment, our research shows that you can still enhance your cognitive abilities to new levels no matter what season it is.