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(REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)
(REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Warm it up

Turn down the air conditioning: Chilly rooms may hurt women’s productivity, a new study finds

By WITW Staff on May 27, 2019

If you’re working in an office with arctic blasts of air conditioning, beware: Chilly temperatures may affect women’s productivity, a new study has found, with men scoring higher than women on math and verbal tests in colder rooms, and women’s scores shooting higher in warmer rooms.

The findings, recently published in the journal PLOS One and reported by The New York Times, require further study under a variety of conditions, according to the Times, but they could contribute to a rethink of work and study spaces.

In the study, more than 500 college students took tests for an hour in rooms with temperatures ranging from 61 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Times report. The students performed as many math problems as possible and rearranged a set of letters into as many words as possible. They also solved a series of logic problems.

When the data were split between male and female students, a pattern became clear. While scores on the logic problems did not vary as temperatures changed, scores on the math and verbal tests did.

“If temperatures are cold, men are much better than women,” said Agne Kajackaite, a behavioral economics researcher at WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany and an author of the study, according to the Times report. “So there is this gender gap. But then when temperature increases, the gender gap disappears” on the math test, she said, and women outscore men on the verbal test.

On the math test specifically, she said, “When the temperature was below 70 Fahrenheit, females solved, on average, 8.31 math tasks correctly. And when the temperature was above 80 Fahrenheit, females solved 10.56 tasks. That is, female performance increased by 27 percent.”

Indeed, office thermostats weren’t set with women in mind — or with most men in mind, for that matter. In the 1960s and 1970s, scientists pinpointed optimal indoor temperatures based on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old, 154-pound man, research has shown. That metabolic rate can be as much as 35 percent higher than the average metabolic rate of women.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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