Turning up the thermostat at the office may well result in higher productivity for women, a new USC study finds.

Women performed better on math and verbal tasks at warmer temperatures, while the opposite was true for men. As temperatures increased, women’s performance on tasks improved. When the temperature dropped, men performed better, although the relationship between temperature and men’s performance was less pronounced. The study – authored by Tom Chang, associate professor of finance and business economics at the USC Marshall School of Business, and Agne Kajackaite of WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany – was published in the May 22 edition of PLOS ONE.

Office temperatures often are based on the metabolic rates of men, researchers noted, which likely explains why many women bring sweaters and scarves to the office just to keep warm. This chilling new research suggests that cold environments may have a very real effect on women employees: lower productivity and cognitive performance.

“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, as USC News reported. “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.”

Dubbed the “battle of the thermostat,” this phenomenon prompted researchers to design a real-world experiment testing the effect of room temperatures on real-world tasks.

“One of the most surprising things we learned is this isn’t about the extremes of temperature,” Chang said, as USC News cited. “It’s not like we’re getting to freezing or boiling hot. Even if you go from 60 to 75 degrees, which is a relatively normal temperature range, you still see a meaningful variation in performance.”

Their findings may prompt managers to turn up the dial on their office thermostats.

The results also might have implications for building design, a field that has focused in recent years on designing more energy-efficient buildings.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.