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23 October 2019
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Women's brains work better in warmer offices, reports Herpreet Kaur Grewal. 

Cold iStock
© Cold iStock

01 July 2019 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Women work better when an office is warmer whereas men thrive in cooler workplaces, according to an academic study published in the German Plos One journal.

German researchers conducted a laboratory experiment with 543 students in Berlin, using a variety of tests including maths, verbal and cognitive reflection during sessions in temperatures varying from 16.19 degrees Celsius to 32.57°C.

In each session, participants were given the same set of tasks, and were offered monetary incentives based on performance. 

The researchers said the tests revealed that at higher temperatures, women perform better on mathematics and verbal tasks while the reverse effect is observed in men. 

The increase in female performance in response to higher temperature is significantly larger and more precisely estimated than the corresponding decrease in male performance. In contrast to the maths and verbal tasks, temperature has no impact on a measure of cognitive reflection for either gender. 

The findings suggest that gender-mixed workplaces may be able to increase productivity by setting the thermostat higher than current standards.

The findings show that within a temperature range of 16°C to 33°C, females “generally exhibit better cognitive performance at the warmer end of the temperature distribution while men do better at colder temperatures”.

The increase in female cognitive performance “appears to be driven largely by an increase in the number of submitted answers”. The researchers added: “We interpret this as evidence that the increased performance is driven in part by an increase in effort. Similarly, the decrease in male cognitive performance is partially driven by a decrease in observable effort.” 

They also noted that the increase in female cognitive performance is “larger and more precisely estimated than the decrease in male performance”.

The researchers say that the fact that women generally prefer higher indoor temperatures than men is well supported by survey evidence.

For example, a study from 2015 in the journal Nature Climate Change found that most air conditioning units are designed for the body temperature and metabolism of men. 

An opinion piece in the same year by columnist Petula Dvorak in the Washington Post went further, saying air conditioning was part of a “big, sexist plot”. 

She cited a study from Cornell University which concluded that colder workers make more errors and are less productive. The research into office temperatures by Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis and director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, had shown that turning up the thermostat made employees more productive – and even saves on overall energy bills.  

 The Battle for the Thermostat: Gender and the Effect of Temperature on Cognitive Performance can be read here: tinyurl.com/FacMag0719-temperature

Emma Potter