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Thermostat wars: Women perform better in warmer offices, new study claims

Most office buildings temperatures are set using a formula from the 1960s

A new study claims that setting office thermostats to lower temperatures may hinder women's productivity.

The American and German researchers found that women performed better on verbal and mathematical tasks when room temperatures were warmer, according to the study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE. The opposite was 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," co-author Tom Chang said in a news release. Chang is an associate professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Men's body temperatures are slightly higher than women's and "most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men," a 2015 study claimed.

On average, men's metabolic rates are about 23 percent higher than women's, according to a Reader's Digest report. Women's temperatures also tend to fluctuate because of their hormonal levels.

What are the details?

Researchers recruited 543 students from universities in Berlin, Germany, for the study, which was held in the experimental economics laboratory at Technical University Berlin. Forty-one percent of the participants were women.

The researchers held 24 test sessions with about two dozen participants in each session.

Each test included "a cognitive reflection test, an adding up numbers task, and a words building task," the study's authors wrote.

Room temperatures during the tests varied from 61 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chang, along with co-author Agne Kajackaite, WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany, found that temperature affected both men and women on the math and verbal portions, but there was no impact on the cognitive reflection test.

"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," Chang said in the release.

Was the change only noticeable during extreme cold or warm temperatures?

Noticeable changes in performance occurred even when the temperature changes weren't extreme, according to the authors.

"It's not like we're getting to freezing or boiling hot," Chang said. "Even if you go from 60 to 75 degrees, which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance."

What else?

The authors said the study showed that business owners should consider raising the thermostats in their offices to increase their bottom line.

"People invest a lot in making sure their workers are comfortable and highly productive," Chang said. "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."

One last thing…
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