A new study suggests women's performance on math and verbal tasks increases as room temperature rises, up to about the mid 70s F. Christopher Intagliata reports.
A few years ago scientists determined that our thermostats are sexist—namely, that office climates had been optimized for a hypothetical roomful of 40-year-old, 150-pound men, using standards developed more than 50 years ago. And that ends up leaving a lot of women in the cold.
"It's called the battle of the thermostat." Tom Chang, a behavioral economist at the USC Marshall School of Business. He says it goes beyond comfort for women: "It seems that it's not just a matter of comfort, but it also affects their productivity."
Chang and his colleague tested that link between temperature and performance by quizzing 543 German students on basic addition skills and word scrambles in rooms that varied from 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
"And if you went from the low 60s to the mid-70s, you saw an increase in female performance of almost 15 percent, which I found remarkably large—much larger than I'd expected." The effects tapered off after the mid-70s. But men, on the other hand, had a small decrease in performance—about 3 percent—as temperatures rose to the mid-70s. The results are in the journal PLoS One. [Tom Y. Chang and Agne Kajackaite, Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance]
And there's a chance these findings might explain disparities in test scores on the SAT.
"The longstanding gap in performance between high school boys and high school girls on the SATs is approximately 4 percent. Given the effect size we're finding, 3 degrees' difference in indoor temperature would close that gap entirely." Still, he says, "I wouldn't go running off writing policy off of one study."
But it seems Cynthia Nixon had the thermostat dialed in just right last year. The actor turned politician was preparing to debate Andrew Cuomo as they vied for the Democratic nomination for New York State’s governor. Debate venues are usually kept pretty chilly. But she requested a more balmy—and perhaps cognitively friendly—76 degrees.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]