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Negative Ions and Positive Vibes
Negative ion generators are curious little devices--their manufacturers' claims are inevitably followed by exclamation marks. "Is your air healthy?" asks one ad. "Recreate fresh mountain quality air indoors!" Negative ions, say manufacturers, make you feel alive, revitalized, and alert while relieving depression, headaches, and allergies. Trillions of these incredible negative ions somehow are supposed to kill bacteria and make plants grow better.
But do such claims have any scientific basis? Possibly. First, it is true that the number of "small ions" in the air --electrically charged molecules and atoms that are highly mobile-- varies widely. Clean outdoor air may have 1,000 positive and 1,000 negative ions in each cubic centimeter, while polluted city air probably has fewer, and air- conditioned offices may have only 100.
Commercial ion generators can indeed change indoor ion levels drastically. When a high negative voltage is sent into a needle point, it generates both positive and [sic] negative ions. The negative ions are repelled by the negative needle (like electric charges repel) and blown into the room by a fan. The physics of ion measurements are almost certainly more complex than manufacturers and some experimenters recognize. However, an efficient ion generator may bring a room to even higher negative ion levels than typically found outdoors.
The question is whether increasing the number of negative ions makes people feel more comfortable and work more efficiently. The answer is especially important in regard to the video screens that display words and numbers at computer terminals. These screens, which many users say cause fatigue and headaches, usually have positive voltages strong enough to wipe out nearby negative ions.
L. H. Hawkins, from the Human Biology and Health Department of the University of Surrey in England, has performed two sets of experiments to find out how negative ions affect people. In the first set, Hawkins maintained high levels of negative ions in a room part of the time, but maintained predominately positive ions in the room the rest of the time. The people in the room, unaware that the ions were being manipulated, performed standard tasks.
When the ions were negative, the subjects did 25 percent better at complicated tasks such as drawing something while looking at its reverse image in a mirror. There was a smaller but statistically significant 6 percent improvement in simpler tests such as reaction time. Women seemed more sensitive to ions than men, and high humidity and temperature tended to wash out the benefit of negative ions.
In a second test, Hawkins installed two commercial ion generators in a congested computer office. The fans on these generators could be switched on separately from the ionizers, and with the fans always running, nobody in the office knew whether the ionizer was working. According to Hawkins' measurements, with the ionizer on, the office had about 3,500 negative and 100 positive ions per cubic centimeter of air; with it off there were about 550 negative and 500 positive ions.
At the end of their shifts, the 54 people in the office filled out questionnaires about how they felt and how they rated their environment. Negative ions did seem to produce positive effects. Workers complained of headaches in only 6 percent of the shifts when the ionizer was operating, but they complained in 26 percent of the shifts when it was off. The questionnaires revealed similar increases in how pleasant workers felt and decreases in complaints about nausea and dizziness.
Since some workers in computerized offices stay at terminals near video screens all day, where negative ions are so depleted, ionizers could be helpful accessories. But Hawkins emphasized that his findings are tentative. Negative ions are chemically reactive, so they could have some damaging effects. [ED: This statement is purely conjecture by the author, and has never been observed or proven] And other factors will undoubtedly prove far more important for workers, such as how satisfying the work itself is or what the boss is like.
Full Text COPYRIGHT 1983 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alumni Association
Effects of negative ions on cognitive performance
Abstract: Male and female subjects (undergraduate students) participated in two studies designed
to investigate the impact of negative air ions on cognitive performance. In the first experiment,
they worked on three different tasks (proofreading, memory span, word finding) in the presence of
low, moderate, or high concentrations of such ions. Results indicated that among men, performance on
two of these tasks (proofreading and memory span) was enhanced by moderate but not by high
concentrations of ions. In the second experiment, undertaken to extend the generality of these
initial results, male and female subjects performed two additional tasks (letter copying, decision
making) in the presence of low, moderate, or high concentrations of ions. Output on the letter
copying task increased significantly as ion level rose among both sexes. With respect to decision
making, the tendency of male (but not female) participants to select initially preferred
alternatives was significantly enhanced by moderate concentrations of negative ions. Together, the
findings of these studies suggest that negative air ions can indeed exert appreciable effects on
cognitive performance. However, contrary to claims often associated with advertising for
commercially produced ion generators, these effects are neither simple nor uniformly beneficial in
Full content for this article includes illustration and table.
Negative Ions for the Brain *
The atmosphere we breathe normally is full of positive and negative ions. Air conditioning, lack of ventilation, and long dry spells remove negative ions, which usually serve to latch onto airborne dirt particles and wrestle them to the floor, rendering the air purer. Roughly one-third of the population seems to be particularly sensitive to negative-ion depletion. The proportion of negative ions is highest around moving water (storms, oceans, rivers, waterfalls)—It's no wonder that we feel so energized at the beach. The best ratios of negative to positive ions are associated with waterfalls and the time before, during, and after storms. The worst are found in windowless rooms and closed, moving vehicles. Air purifiers typically work by emitting negative ions, which purify room air by attaching to impurities and sinking them.
High concentrations of negative ions are essential for high energy and positive mood (Thayer, 1996). In fact, Marian Diamond, a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that levels of negative ions are inversely related to levels of serotonin in the brain. Negative ions suppress serotonin levels in much the same way that natural sunlight suppresses melatonin. Hence the invigorating effect of fresh air and sunshine and the correspondingly depressed feelings associated with being closed in and dark. If you deplete the air of negative ions, you experience an increase in serotonin and its attendant drowsiness and relaxation—not what you want when mental agility is demanded. Diamond's research (1988), along with other information on ions, is summarized in Yepsen (1987).
In an interesting twist, Josh Backon, a member of the Department of Cardiology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writes in an Internet posting (his E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org) that in order to increase left-hemisphere activity (linear, language, logical), one can block the left nostril and engage in "forced unilateral nostril breathing." Likewise, to increase right-hemisphere activity (creative, holistic, emotional), the right nostril should be blocked. This practice increases the supply of negative ions to a specific hemisphere.
1. Don't live or work in a space with no fresh air unless the air conditioning system contains an ion generator.
2. Purchase a room ion generator to keep in the room in which you spend the most time, and run it when you are not getting any outside air.
3. Take frequent breaks in fresh air, and when you can't, open the window!
 Diamond, M. (1988) Enriching Heredity: The Impact of the Environment on the Anatomy of the Brain. New York: Free Press.
 Yepsen, R.B., Jr. (1987) How to Boost Your Brain Power: Achieving Peak Intelligence, Memory and Creativity. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale.
* From The Owner's Manual for the Brain, Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research
Second Edition - Bard Press