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

By Seriously Science | January 9, 2014 7:00 am
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.

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!

  • Bri Alb

    Apparently being a “scientist” or at least an article journalist does not a good grammarian make.
    “Stupider” is NOT a word, I believe you mean “more stupid”. But way to make yourself look “stupider” 😛

    • Devon

      Actually, this simply proves that being of a scientific mind does not nessesitate having equal linguistic prowess. While we tend to affix comparitive suffixes (er and est) to monosyllabic words with relative comfort and view this as a prescriptive “rule” in English grammar, it is definitely not. Due to the prevalence of monosyllabic roots in Anglo-Saxon phonological, the er/est comparitive form is quite in common usage, but native speakers “resist” the usage in di or poly-syllabic words; often of Latinate origin. The crux of the matter is that this study was conducted by British researchers who don’t have the same aversion to disyllsbic suffixive comparitive forms. In fact, the usage prevalence of “stupidest” far surpasses the usage of “most stupid” among British native English speakers. While we (as Americans) are often taught prescriptive grammar “rules” in school, those rules are rarely given the full nuance and compcomprehensive consideration necessary to fully understand their intent. In short, “stupider” is in fact fully correct grammatically, though it is the less common form for American English. As a side note, both “stupider” and “stupidest” have been in common usage and accepted as valid in both literature and academia since roughly 1870. Best wishes!

  • Andrew Bruner

    Thirty minutes, 80 degrees, 41% humidity is comparable to no test at all. Hardly time to get your engine warm.
    Try 6 to 8 hours, 90 degrees, at 53% humidity (average afternoon for Shreveport LA) then get back to me.


Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]

See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar