An interesting bit of research has found that female productivity increases by a whopping 27% when the temperature raises from 70F to 80F.
The fact that women are often shivering cold in air-conditioned offices comes as no surprise. It’s been shown by a number of studies that office thermostats are typically set according to men’s metabolic rates, a model that “may overestimate resting heat production of women by up to 35 percent.”
What hasn’t been studied in as much depth, however, is whether ambient temperatures affect productivity. A new study published in PLOS One does precisely this, assessing the cognitive performance of men and women at different temperatures. It found that, “at colder temperatures, men scored higher than women on verbal and math tests. But as a room grew warmer, women’s scores rose significantly.”
This finding came about when 500 college students participated in one-hour math, verbal, and cognitive reasoning tests in rooms with temperatures that ranged between 61 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (16 and 33 Celsius). The students were asked to solve as many simple math problems as they could and to rearrange letters into as many words as possible within the time limit.
Temperature made no difference when scores were considered as a group, but once divided by gender, there was a stark contrast when it came to the math and verbal tests. Men did much better than women in cold rooms, but as soon as the temperature increased, women did just as well as men, even outpacing them in the verbal questions.
The New York Times cites study co-author Dr. Agne Kajackaite, a behavioral economics researcher at WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany.
“When the temperature was below 70 Fahrenheit (21 Celsius), females solved, on average, 8.31 math tasks correctly. And when the temperature was above 80 Fahrenheit (27 C), females solved 10.56 tasks. That is, female performance increased by 27 percent.”
Curiously, percentage wasn’t the only thing that increased at a warmer temperature; so was the number of problems that women took on to solve, possibly because they felt better in general. Dr. Kajackaite suggested, “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.”
Does this mean that offices and schools should rethink their ambient temperatures? Probably, and not least of all because air conditioning is terrible for the environment, and it’s utterly senseless to be packing on extra layers of clothing just to get through the work day.
But dressing for the season should also be more in vogue. If men ditched their heavy suit jackets and women opted for long-sleeve shirts over light dresses, perhaps the battle for the thermostat could even out a bit and everyone would feel more comfortable. Or you could do what I do at peak summer – open all the windows and revel in the sticky, oppressive warmth that I’ve waited 10 long months to feel.