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Description: So here is something most Canadians and other northern dwellers ought to know. What effect does winter have on your cognitive and emotional functioning? While the stuff we know well about seasonal affect disorder as described in the video which runs at the top of the linked article below but after looking at it read the article that follows as it describes to research studies suggest that we might need to at least broaden our thinking a little bit about the potential negative impact of winter on cognitive and emotional functioning.

Source: Your brain performs best when it’s cold outside, Christian Jarrett, The Science of Us,

Date: February 19, 2016


Photo Credit:

Links: Article Link —

You’ve likely heard reference in one or more of your classes or in a variety of media reports about the relationship between winter particularly in northern latitudes and negative psychological experiences such as depression (seasonal affect disorder) etc. The two studies discussed in this linked article suggest we need to think a little harder about the possibility of a relationship between winter and depression among other things. The first study involved over 34,000 individuals and basically found no relationship whatsoever between levels of depression and time of year suggesting the possibility the previous research might’ve been somewhat biased by actively recruiting individuals who believed that there was a relationship between their symptoms of depression and time of year. The second study looked a little more directly looked at cognitive ability and mental functioning at different times of the year. Substantially what they found was very little variation based on time of year in such things as vigilance and performance and alertness on a variety of cognitive tasks. One general finding did suggest the possibility that our brains function more efficiently in the winter than they do in the summertime, a feature normally associated with individuals who develop a high level of expertise in the particular areas being assessed by cognitive tasks. Those were thinking about some of the implications of these findings for how we as Northerners prepare for and talk about the winter.


Questions for Discussion:

  1. According to the article what are some of the differences between the general views out there about the effects of the winter on emotional and cognitive functioning as compared to the findings of the study’s actually discussed in the linked article?
  2. What do the research articles discussed in this linked article suggest, if anything, we as Northerners should do to prepare ourselves for the winter?.
  3. Can you think of some reasons why the notion of seasonal affect disorder seems so popular (if it turns out that the findings of these two studies bear up under replication) and?

References (Read Further):

Traffanstedt, M. K., Mehta, S., & LoBello, S. G. (2016). Major Depression With Seasonal Variation Is It a Valid Construct?. Clinical Psychological Science, 2167702615615867.

Meyer, C., Muto, V., Jaspar, M., Kusse, C., Lambot, E., Chellappa, S. L., … & Archer, S. (2015). Seasonality in human cognitive brain responses.

Brennen, T., Martinussen, M., Ole Hansen, B., & Hjemdal, O. (1999). Arctic cognition: a study of cognitive performance in summer and winter at 69 N. Applied cognitive psychology, 13(6), 561-580.