Turns out, there’s a scientific reason behind the age-old “battle of the thermostat” that plays out between women and men in offices across the world.
According to a new USC study, which was published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, women tend to perform better and be more productive at slightly warmer 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,” Tom Chang, one of the co-authors of the study, said in a press release. “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.”
The study notes that “at higher temperatures,” women tend to perform better at math and verbal tasks “while the reverse effect is observed in men.” However, women tend to be “significantly” more affected by the temperature change than men are.
The results were obtained by performing a variety of tests on 543 students in Germany, with about 41 percent of the subjects being female.
Each of the tests, which challenged the students’ math and verbal skills as well as their cognitive reflection, took place in rooms which ranged in temperature from between 16.19 to 32.57 degrees Celsius (roughly 61 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit).
For the math tests, students were asked to perform simple calculations without the use of a calculator, while for the verbal tests, they were asked to come up with as many German words as possible from a set of 10 letters. They were also given a variety of questions to test their logic skills.
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The study found that even slight changes in temperature could have a strong positive impact on how well women perform, compared with a much smaller negative effect on men.
For instance, the study states that “a one-degree Celsius increase” in temperature results in women doing 1.76 percent better on math problems, while men only got .63 percent less answers correct.
“One of the most surprising things we learned is this isn’t about the extremes of temperature,” Chang remarked in the press release. “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.”
Pointing out one of the areas where this knowledge could possibly be used to bring about change, the study notes that “the well-known, long-standing gap in performance between high school boys and girls on the math portion of the SAT is approximately 4%.”
However, while the study found temperature does affect how well women and men do on math and verbal tasks, they found it “has no significant impact” on cognitive reflection.
As a result of their findings, Chang and co-author Agne Kajackaite suggest that “gender mixed workplaces may be able to increase productivity be setting the thermostat higher than current standards.”
“People invest a lot in making sure their workers are comfortable and highly productive,” Chang added. “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.”
In a statement to The New York Times, Kajackaite added that “females feel better when it’s warmer, so they can exert more effort.”
“On a good day, you will try more. On a bad day, you will try less,” she added.