Battle of the thermostat: Women's productivity increases in warm offices

Jessica Satherley
Battle of the thermostat: Women's productivity increases in warm offices

The battle of the thermostat is a common dispute between the sexes but now a new study has proven that women perform better in warm offices, while men’s cognitive performance peaks in cooler temperatures.

A laboratory experiment in Berlin, supported by the University of Southern California, studied 543 students.  They were given cognitive tasks such as math, verbal and cognitive reflection, while the indoor temperature was manipulated over an hour.

Women performed better in math and verbal tasks in higher temperatures compared to their results at low temperatures, the study measuring ‘gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance’ found.

Men on the contrary performed better test results in low temperatures compared to the more heated room.

“What we found is it’s not just whether you feel comfortable or not, but that your performance on things that matter – in math and verbal dimensions, and how hard you try – is affected by temperature,” the study author Tom Change, associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business, said.

Temperatures varied from 16.19 degrees Celsius to 32.57 degrees in the study and participants were incentivised by monetary rewards based on their performances.

Even a one-degree Celsius increase in room temperature, led to a 1.76% increase in correct math answers by women. In contrast, men saw a 0.63% decline in correct math answers when the temperature was increased by one degree.

The standard office temperature was originally formulated in the 1960s, which was based around the average man’s resting metabolic rate. However, the metabolic rate of adult females working in an office is significantly lower than the male rate performing the same activities, a 2015 Dutch study found.

“One of the most surprising things we learned is this isn’t about the extremes of temperature. It’s not like we’re getting to freezing or boiling hot. Even if you go from 15.5 degrees to 23.8 degrees Celcius, which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance,” Chang said in a USC press statement.

“People invest a lot in making sure their workers are comfortable and highly productive.  This study is saying, even if you care only about money or the performance of your workers, you may want to crank up the temperature in your buildings,” Chang said.

A ‘normal’ body temperature is usually regarded to be 37 degrees Celsius, however some studies have shown that women have lower hand temperatures than men as well.  A study in the Lancet medical journal from 1998 said that female hands were 2.8 degrees lower than men’s. One of the reasons for this has been put down to the higher rate of muscle mass that men generally have and muscle produces approximately 25% of the body’s temperature.

Office temperature is just one of the many areas of life that has been designed around the average male.  Dubbed, the ‘Reference Man’, he is specifically a Caucasian man aged 25 to 30 and weighs 70kg.  Reference man is the representative for data measuring everything from average shelf heights to the design of cars, putting women at higher risk during car crashes, The Guardian recently reported.

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