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Battle of the thermostat heats up

Is there a battle of the sexes when it comes to office air conditioning? And do men and women really work more efficiently at different temperatures?

Certainly decades of anecdotal evidence and arguments about dress codes and set-points suggests men and women have different ideal temperature preferences at work.

Now a new German study does indeed suggest that male and female office co-workers perform more efficiently at different temperatures.

Published in the journal PLOS One, the study posits that women perform better on cognitive tasks at higher temperatures. Men perform better when the temperature is cooler.

“Our findings suggest that gender-mixed workplaces may be able to increase productivity by setting the thermostat higher than current standards,” the study found.

Conducted in Germany, the study tested the ability of 550 men and women to perform a series of cognitive tasks at a variety of temperatures, ranging from 16 to 33°C.

At higher temperatures, women perform better on maths and verbal tasks than at cooler temperatures, while the reverse is true for men.

For women, the increase in performance while working in warmer temperatures was “significantly larger” than the decrease in male performance.

The term “significantly larger” is somewhat deceptive, however. For each increase in temperature of 1°C, women answered about 1.75 per cent more maths questions correctly and 1 per cent more verbal questions correctly. Men answered about 0.6 per cent fewer correctly in both categories.

Temperature did not seem to affect performance in the verbal challenges.

“When we start at low temperatures, the gender gap is huge in the math task,” says study co-author Agne Kajackaite from the Berlin Social Science Centre. “As the temperature increases, women become better and better and better, and at some point, there’s no gender gap.”

The study, of course, does not guarantee that all women will perform better at warmer temperatures, nor that all men do their best work with the AC blasting.

More research is required.

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