Can increasing the temperature improve productivity? Research suggests women’s brains work better in warmer offices
12/18/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

Do you find yourself fiddling with the thermostat, especially when you're with your significant other? A recent study has revealed that men and women prefer different temperatures – ladies like it a little warmer, while the gents prefer chiller environments. In particular, the study noted that women perform better at warmer workplaces and men work best in lower temperatures.

This finding builds on earlier studies, like that from the University of Utah, which concluded that women's extremities were several degrees colder than those of men's, making them more susceptible to the cold. A similar study from the University of Maryland revealed that the metabolic rate of men was 23 percent higher than that of women. A higher metabolic rate translated to a faster increase in body temperature.

Taken together, the findings of the two studies indicated why women tend to raise the temperature while men usually bring it down. Having colder hands and feet meant that women could feel the effects of the cold more sharply compared to men. (Related: Fancy new fabric reacts to body heat, automatically cools or insulates to keep you comfortable.)

Female students answer more questions and give more correct answers in warmer rooms

In this study, researchers from the USC Marshall School of Business and WZB Berlin Social Science Center investigated the different temperature preferences of men and women. The team recruited over 500 university students and asked them to complete tests that measured their logic, mathematics and verbal skills. During the test, the participants were in a room that changed temperatures in between sessions. The researchers, in particular, recorded the students' performance, organized the data according to temperature and compared them. Their study spanned the period between September 2017 and December 2017.


They found that female participants achieved better scores on math and verbal tests during periods with warmer room temperatures. In their preferred temperature range, the students answered more questions overall. Further, the women submitted more correct answers. Conversely, male students did much better on math and verbal tests during the times with cooler room temperatures. When the room got hotter, the male participants ended up answering fewer questions in general and also made more mistakes. The researchers noted that temperature did not appear to influence the scores on the logic test for both male and female students.

Offices may improve performance by increasing the room temperature

The USC Marshall-WZB researchers, however, were quick to note that their study primarily covered university students. People from other demographic groups might not display the same response to colder or warmer room temperatures. Still, the findings could open the door to future studies on the effect of temperature on cognitive performance.

An earlier study by researchers from Maastricht University Medical Center+ reported that most office buildings set the temperatures of their rooms based on a formula that dated back to the 1960s. The formula calculated the metabolic rate of men and determined the temperatures that optimized their efficiency. It did not take into account women's metabolic rate since men made up most of the office worker population during the 1960s. The US Department of Labor recently stated that 47 percent of the US workforce currently consists of women workers.

“Our findings suggest that gender-mixed workplaces may be able to increase productivity by setting the thermostat higher than current standards,” the USC Marshall-WZB researchers recommended.

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