Turning up the thermostat at the office may result in higher productivity for women, according to a USC researcher.
Tom Chang, an associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business, co-authored a study which found that women performed better on math and verbal tasks at higher temperatures, while the opposite was true for men. As temperatures increased, so did women’s performance on tasks. When temperatures were lowered, men performed better, although the relationship between temperature and men’s performance was less pronounced.
The study suggests that gender is an important factor not only in determining the impact of temperature on comfort, but also on productivity and cognitive performance, according to Chang and co-author Agne Kajackaite of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany. Their work was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
“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,” Chang said. “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 results have implications for economic productivity as well as for building design, a field that has focused in recent years on designing more energy-efficient buildings, according to USC.
A total of 543 students participated in the laboratory experiment, which was conducted in Berlin. For each session, room temperatures were set at various increments ranging from about 61 degrees to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit.
In each session, participants were required to complete three different tasks — monetarily incentivized based on performance — within a given amount of time. In the math test, participants were asked to add up five two-digit numbers without using a calculator. For the verbal task, participants were asked to build as many German words as possible given a set of 10 letters. In the last task, the cognitive reflection test, participants were given a set of questions framed so that the intuitive answer was the wrong answer.
The authors found a meaningful relationship between room temperature and how well participants scored on the math and verbal tasks, while temperature had no effect for men and women on the cognitive reflection test.