Just one or two degrees in the office temperature can have a big impact
If you’ve ever worked in an office setting, you’ve likely seen women with extra cardigans thrown over the backs of their chairs and space heaters under their desks because, unlike at home, they can’t control the office temperature. A new study found if they could, women would crank that puppy up — and it would have a positive impact on their cognitive functioning.
As the temperature war rages on amongst men and women in the workplace, a new study, published in the journal PLOS One, only fuels the fire. According to researchers, women perform better on math and verbal tasks in warmer environments, while men do better when it’s colder.
Researchers in this study recruited 550 German college students to complete cognitive tasks like adding double-digit numbers, making words out of a random set of 10 letters, and solving various word problems. Temperatures varied from around 61 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
They found that women performed better on both math and verbal tasks as temps got warmer, but men did the opposite. While the impact wasn’t large from a percentage perspective in terms of how many questions they got right, the study’s lead author, Agne Kajackaite, says it matters since temperature preferences in the workplace usually “vary by more than a single degree,” which compounds the results.
Men and women have roughly the same core body temperature, in fact, some studies have found the female core body temperature is slightly higher than men’s. But our perception of temperature depends more on skin temperature, which, for women, tends to be lower (thanks hormones).
These differences underscore a 2015 paper published in the journal, Nature, which found most offices set their thermostats using a male-centric “thermal comfort model,” which are “intrinsically non-energy-efficient in providing comfort to females.” This went down like a fart in church for many fighting sexism in the workplace. In fact, while running for governor of New York, Cynthia Nixon called the colder temperatures favored by men “notoriously sexist.”
“When we start at low temperatures, the gender gap is huge in the math task,” Kajackaite says. “As the temperature increases, women become better and better and better, and at some point there’s no gender gap.”
My husband and I have a thermostat dance we do most days where every time one of us passes by it, we adjust it up or down a few degrees, which is not only an exercise in futility, it sucks for him when he eventually loses. While this study isn’t likely to change anything at the office, it does give good insight into the impacts of learning and functioning in various temperatures, so just turn up the damn heat already guys, you know we do most of the work in the office anyways.
“Temperature could affect not just the comfort, but the everyday performance of people,” Kajackaite continued. “If you feel more comfortable in the office with your five sweaters, or without your sweater, it might also affect your performance, so you should take it seriously.”