It’s long been known that men have a slightly higher body temperature than women. As a result, “most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men,” concluded one study from 2015.
But sticking to a temperature that only the men find preferable may be bad for business, according to new research. The study, conducted by researchers from the US and Germany and published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that women perform better on mathematical and verbal tasks when the temperature is higher. The opposite effect was seen for men, but the impact was less noticeable.
The researchers recruited 543 students for the study that was conducted in Berlin, led by Chang and Agne Kajackaite from the WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany. They set the room temperatures between 61 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit for various parts of the experiment, and asked the participants to perform three tasks — one mathematical, one verbal, and one called “cognitive reflection,” where the intuitive answer was the wrong one.
Temperature affected men and women for both the mathematical and verbal tasks, but had no impact on the cognitive reflection test.
“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 Chang, the associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business and one of the authors of the study.
“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.”
He added that the most surprising thing about the experiments was how temperature changes don’t have to be extreme to have a noticeable effect.
“It’s not like we’re getting to freezing or boiling hot,” he said. “Even if you go from 60 to 75 degrees, which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance.”
In the discussion, the researchers said the increase in women’s performance was probably down to putting more effort in and submitting more answers. When men experienced a drop in performance, it was because they didn’t submit as many answers as they did at the lower temperature. The findings, they said, “raise the stakes for the battle of the thermostat.”
“People invest a lot in making sure their workers are comfortable and highly productive,” said Chang. “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.”