Study Finds Women Are More Productive at Warmer Room Temperatures

According to a new study from scholars at the University of Southern California and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany, women perform better on math and verbal tasks in rooms with higher temperatures, while the opposite is true for men.

“It’s been documented that women like warmer indoor temperatures than men, but the idea until now has been that it’s a matter of personal preference,” said Tom Change, an associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business. “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.”

For their study, the research team analyzed a large group of students in a laboratory experiment in Berlin. For each session, room temperatures were set a various increments ranging from about 61 degrees Fahrenheit to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit. In each session, participants were required to complete three different tasks within a given amount of time. In the math test, participants were asked to add up five two-digit numbers without using a calculator. For the verbal task, participants were asked to build as many German words as possible given a set of 10 letters. In the last task, the cognitive reflection test, participants were given a set of questions framed so that the intuitive answer was the wrong answer.

The authors found a meaningful relationship between room temperature and how well participants scored on the math and verbal tasks, while temperature had no effect for either gender on the cognitive reflection test.

“One of the most surprising things we learned is this isn’t about the extremes of temperature,” Chang said. “It’s not like we’re getting to freezing or boiling hot. Even if you go from 60 to 75 degrees, which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance.”

The authors believe that their findings suggest temperatures should be raised significantly higher than current standards to increase productivity in mixed-gender workplaces.

“People invest a lot in making sure their workers are comfortable and highly productive,” Chang said. “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 office buildings.”

The full study, “Battle for the Thermostat: Gender and the Effect of Temperature on Cognitive Performance,” was published in the journal PLOS ONE. It may be accessed here.

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