We are now looking at external factors affecting cognitive performance. In our last article, we assessed the effects of noise in the workplace. Now it’s time to evaluate the effects of temperature of your cognitive performance.

Body temperature has a direct impact on how comfortable a person feels – the brain monitors body temperature and sends nerve impulses to the skin if it’s too hot or too cold. When it’s hot, you sweat, when it’s cold, muscles contract, causing you to shiver. As body temperature has a direct impact on how comfortable a person is, if they are uncomfortable – if the room temperature is too hot or too cold, a person will be easily distracted due to discomfort.

It is believed that we have a greater tolerance for colder temperatures as opposed to heat. Research confirms that high temperatures of 30°c and above has negative effects on cognitive performance. However, at cold temperatures of 12°c and below, response times are moderately faster than that compared to performance in hotter temperatures.

Warm weather can be perceived as a ‘threat’, as more attention is spent on how to tackle the heat, leaving less concentration for the task at hand. Interestingly, water helps to regulate internal body temperature, so keeping hydrated is important.

Of course every individual is different – our preferences of ‘thermal comfort’ are highly individual and can be affected by what we are wearing, body type and our metabolism. If the conditions are right, we are less distracted and can focus on the task at hand. When we are uncomfortable, we focus more on how uncomfortable we are, leaving less concentration for the task, inevitably leading to some deteriorations in performance. The deterioration in performance varies depending on the individual, the task and the duration of the discomfort.

With so many people in an office, it’s difficult to keep a temperature that everyone feels comfortable in. You have people who want to keep the window open to let a fresh cool breeze in while they’re overheating, and others who are constantly freezing asking for a heater under their desks.

This is why ‘hot desking’ can be extremely useful, as employees can exercise their choices to get the conditions they need to work. Some organisations have sensors in the office, detecting the temperatures and even noise levels to inform employees of the type of environment they are about to choose.

So, if you’re at work, and are uncomfortable with the temperature, noise, chair…whatever it may be – try and seek out the best environment to suit your personal preference, and for the work you do.

Try and avoid hot places in the office when you are concentrating on your work, and seek them out when you need to relax. You could even try dressing in loose layers (a t-shirt and jacket), so you can adjust your own body temperature more directly.

Remember, hydration has a lot to do with your body temperature and comfort, so if you’re always feeling hot, drink more water and if you’re feeling cold, have more hot drinks. If you’re feeling hot, you could try running cold water over your wrists for 10 seconds, or use cold wet flannels over your skin. If you’re feeling cold, you could eat ginger (it works as a stimulant to get the blood circulating, making the body temperature rise), or do some exercise to warm up your muscles.

The moral of the article; stay aware of your body temperatures correlating with the level of comfort. We are less productive when uncomfortable, so choose a workstation which allows you to put 100% concentration on the task at hand.

Cold Woman: today.com
Man in office: Airtech