Women typically prefer higher indoor temperatures than men, which often leads to the “battle for the thermostat”. But even more interesting, besides just preference room temperature seems to affect cognitive performance differently in men and women.
In a controlled study, women permed significantly better on mathematics and verbal tests at higher room temperatures, whereas men achieved the same results at lower room temperatures, according to a new study published on 22 May in the journal PLoS One (1). Moreover, the results were consistent with the reported male and female temperature preferences.
The researchers, Prof Tom Chang from the USC Marshall School of Business, Los Angeles in the US and Dr Agne Kajackaite of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Berlin, Germany, examined the effect of temperature on cognitive performance by gender in a large controlled experiment involving 523 participants. This is the first experimental research to take gender differences into account when examining the effect of temperature on cognitive performance.
The laboratory-based experiments were conducted in Berlin. Participants — 41 per cent were female — completed the same set of math, verbal, or cognitive tasks — which were monetarily incentivized based on performance, i.e., cash was awarded based on the number of questions answered correctly — at different temperatures between 16.19 to 32.57 degrees Celcius.
For example, adding up five two-digit numbers without using a calculator, building words from a set of ten letters, and cognitive reflection test (CRT) questions: “A bat and a ball cost 1.10 EUR in total. The bat costs 1.00 EUR more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”
Based on the response, they used a so-called econometric model — a commonly used statistical model that predicts the relationship between different variables — to map the relationship between temperature and performance.
The researchers observed opposite effects in males and females. They discovered an increase in female performance in response to higher temperatures, which is significantly higher and more precisely estimated than the corresponding decrease in male performance. However, room temperature did not seem to impact performance in cognitive tests for either gender.
The authors note that the increase in female performance seemed to be driven by an increase in the number of questions answered. Whereas, the decrease in male performance at higher temperatures appeared to be driven by an observed decrease in efforts. At warmer temperatures, males submitted not just fewer responses but fewer correct responses.
The study is limited by the fact that the participants were a relatively homogeneous group of German university students. The same effects may not be observed in other demographics.
Nonetheless, it would seem gender is not only an important factor in determining the effect of temperature on comfort but also on productivity and cognitive performance. Therefore, the authors suggest that gender-mixed workplaces may benefit in terms of productivity by setting the thermostat a little bit higher.
(1) Tom Y. Chang, Agne Kajackaite. Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance. PLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (5): e0216362 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216362