Mental fatigue and emotional states following high altitude hypoxia exposure

Roberto Ruffini 1, Nicoletta Cera 2

1 Department of Neuroscience Imaging and Clinical Science. Division of Physiology and Pathophysiology, “G. D’Annunzio” University of Chieti, Italy; 2 Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences CPUP, Centre of Psychology. University of Porto, Portugal

Altitude is a hypoxic environment known to induce several psychophysiological changes. Previous studies found an increase of the negative emotions and a decrease of positive emotions at high altitude. In addition, hypoxia modifies the normal physiological parameters observed at sea level. In the present study we firstly hypothesized, that high altitude may affect the somatization status and mental fatigue; secondly, that altitude is not a sufficient condition to generate psychiatric disturbances. Moreover, the third hypothesized is an increase of the negative emotions and a decrease of the positive emotions.

Seven volunteers climbed a mountain and underwent psychophysiological assessment during three distinct times: before ascendance (at sea level), at Ararat Base Camp (hypoxic natural environment 4150 m a. s. l.) and after ascendance (at sea level). Volunteers underwent psychological tests assessing somatic symptoms, perceived excertion and positive/negative emotions. At Base Camp, a significant increase of somatic symptomatology was observed in respect to sea-level scores. We found a significant increase in mental fatigue at Base Camp in respect to sea-level scores. An increase of positive emotional states and a reduction of negative states at Base Camp in respect to seal level values was found. The physiological measurements showed a significant decrease in saturation of peripheral oxygen and a significant increase for heart rate scores at Base Camp in respect to sea-level scores, as well as significant correlation with psychological tests. 

This preliminary research shows that high altitude impairs the psychophysiological functions and it could be considered an important parameter to predict the climbers adaptation to hypoxia.

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