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Database Provider


Freakonomics Radio


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Social Studies, Biology, Economics, Health

Resource Type

  • Podcasts, 48 minutes, 18 seconds

Regional Focus


This Is Your Brain on Pollution

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  • This podcast episode explores the multifaceted and far-reaching effects of air pollution on humans.
  • Students will learn about sources of air pollution, the Clean Air Act, the effects of pollution on human cognition, and studies that show correlations between cognitive impairment and pollution levels.
Teaching Tips


  • This podcast episode explores an effect of air pollution that is not widely known. 
  • It contains a full transcript.
  • It contains links to additional information on the sources and the studies mentioned in the episode.

Additional Prerequisites

  • This is a follow-up to a previous episode.
  • There is a break and ads in the middle from 27:17 to 30:01 and the conversation ends at 45:40, followed by thanks and end credits.
  • There are short breaks in between this episode.


  • This podcast episode could be used to guide a discussion on the adverse effects of air pollution on human physiology and psychology.
  • Section 3:46 to 4:40 could be used to explain particulate matter in health or science classes.
  • Section 8:16 to 9:14 discusses the Clean Air Act, which could be used in a civics class or history class to open up a discussion on climate policies worldwide.
  • A group discussion concerning pollution and urbanization could be addressed after the podcast, including solutions to reduce pollution that also benefit the climate.
  • Teachers could use the peppered moth example to explain how air pollution affects ecosystems and populations. Students could be given an assignment to find other instances where pollution has caused species to evolve.
  • Teachers could discuss the Huai River Heating Policy in an economics or history class concerning its effects on productivity and labor.
Scientist Notes
This fascinating audio resource explores the impact of air pollution on human cognition and evolutionary biology. This is recommended for teaching.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • HS-LS2-6 Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Civics
      • D2.Civ.3.9-12 Analyze the impact of constitutions, laws, treaties, and international agreements on the maintenance of national and international order.
    • Dimension 2: Economics
      • D2.Eco.7.9-12 Use benefits and costs to evaluate the effectiveness of government policies to improve market outcomes.
    • Dimension 2: Geography
      • D2.Geo.4.9-12 Analyze relationships and interactions within and between human and physical systems to explain reciprocal influences that occur among them.
    • Dimension 4: Taking Informed Action
      • D4.6.9-12 Use disciplinary and interdisciplinary lenses to understand the characteristics and causes of local, regional, and global problems; instances of such problems in multiple contexts; and challenges and opportunities faced by those trying to address these problems over time and place.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Speaking & Listening (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.
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