By Vanessa Chalmers Health Reporter For Mailonline
Published: 18:12 BST, 23 May 2019 | Updated: 18:13 BST, 23 May 2019
Boys who are exposed to pollution in the womb and childhood may have poorer thinking skills and working memory, scientists claim.
Researchers assessed whether inhaling a tiny pollutant emitted by diesel fumes, known as PM2.5, affected schoolchildren in tests.
They found boys exposed to greater levels of the tiny pollutant emitted by diesel fumes performed worse on memory tests.
However, the findings did not apply to girls. The Spanish researchers believe this may be because they have different hormones and genetics.
Boys who are exposed to pollution in the womb and childhood may have poorer thinking skills, scientists in Barcelona have said following a study
Both boys and girls exposed to pollution in the womb and throughout childhood were also less able to stay focused on a computerised task.
Poor working memory skills can have an impact on children’s learning as it is required in the classroom for concentration, as well as in every day life.
The findings add to the growing evidence that shows air pollution is threatening children's brains and cognitive function.
Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) used data from 2,221 children aged between seven and ten.
The children's cognitive abilities were assessed using various tests on the computer, found the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Their exposure to air pollution at home during pregnancy and throughout childhood was estimated with a model using real measurements.
The study found greater PM2.5 exposure from pregnancy until age seven years was associated with lower working memory scores on tests in boys.
The results suggest exposure to fine particulate matter throughout the study period had a cumulative effect, meaning they got worse over time.
Working memory is a system inside the brain responsible for temporarily holding information, similar to short term memory.
It has a limited capacity, and the information is being processed while used - when writing a phone number down, for example.
It plays a fundamental role in learning, reasoning, problem-solving and language comprehension.
Executive attention is one of the three networks that make up a person's attention capacity and is involved in high-level forms of attention.
It's involved with noticing and solving conflicts, error detection and the regulation of thoughts and feelings.
Dr Ioar Rivas, lead researcher, said: 'As yet, we don't understand what causes these differences [between boys and girls].
'But there are various hormonal and genetic mechanisms that could lead to girls having a better response to inflammatory processes triggered by fine particulate matter and being less susceptible to the toxicity of these particles.'
The same team have previously discovered lower levels of cognitive development in children attending schools with higher levels of