Women’s brains work better at higher temperatures, study finds
Men are always hot and women are always cold.
That’s (mostly) true of any office or shared space, and studies confirm that men generally favour lower indoor temperatures while women favour higher ones.
There’s no definitive answer on why that is, though it might be that male fashions tend to cover more flesh, or that woman have less fat to warm their feet, necks and eternally cold hands.
Whatever their cause, these rival preferences are so well-established they’ve been dubbed the “battle of the thermostat” — and it’s a battle women are more likely to lose, shivering away while their male colleagues feel just fine.
Workplaces are so much more likely to lean cool than warm that air-conditioning has been decried as “another big, sexist plot“. Melodramatic, yes — but there might be some truth to it.
Women’s brains appear to function better at higher temperatures and men’s at lower temperatures, according to researchers from the Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
To investigate the battle of the thermostat, the research team conducted a series of experiments at a lab in Berlin. Each of the experiments was conducted in a room set to a particular temperature — ranging from a chilly 16 degrees Celsius up to a swampy 33 degrees — where participants underwent tests and were rewarded with cash for correct answers.
All up, almost 550 young participants each completed three tests:
A maths test, where they were asked to add up five two-digit numbers without using a calculator. Participants were given five minutes to answer 50 such problems (which works out to… frantically consults calculator… six seconds per problem), and rewarded for returning as many correct answers as possible.
A verbal test, where participants were given a set of 10 letters (ADEHINRSTU) and five minutes to form as many words from them as possible. Longer words earned higher rewards.
And a cognitive reflection test, where participants were posed three logic puzzles that challenged them to think beyond the most obvious answer.
(Here’s a classic example of a cognitive reflection test, which was one of the puzzles used in the experiment: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” If your answer is “10 cents”, you’re wrong — ponder it a little harder.)
Results of the experiment are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
At higher temperatures, women scored better at the maths and verbal tasks. At lower temperatures, men performed better at those tasks.
At their preferred temperature, each sex appeared to put more effort into their tests — they attempted to solve more questions, leading to a higher number of correct answers.
Temperature didn’t affect the cognitive reflection test scores.
“Ordinary variations in room temperature can affect cognitive performance significantly and differently for men and women,” noted researchers Tom Chang and Agne Kajackaite, who didn’t speculate why temperature might have a different influence on the male and female brains.
They concluded that their finding could raise the stakes in the battle of the thermostat.
“[Our results suggest] it is not just about comfort, but also about cognitive performance and productivity,” they wrote.
“Given the relative effect sizes, our results suggest that in gender-balanced workplaces, temperatures should be set significantly higher than current standards.”