The Thermostat Wars, Is This Another Case of Men are From Mars and Women from Venus? By Leonard Sowah

battle of the sexes Gender and Performance on Maths tests gender equity relationships societal change Uncategorized

In my home we always have an ongoing fight on the ideal temperature setting for our thermostat. After several ups and downs we have settled on 70˚F but every so often I come home and realize the house is feeling like an oven only to find the thermostat set at 80˚F. Even for a Ghanaian who grew up in Accra just a few degrees North of the Equator that is a total disaster. I cannot function at that temperature and more importantly I just cannot sleep well at such high temperatures.

I still remember sweating terribly at night as a teen growing up in Ghana without any air-conditioning and developing bad heat rash all over my torso. There is no reason to pay BGE (Baltimore Gas & Electric Company) just to re-enact this nightmare scenario right in my home.


When my wife had our first baby the discussion on the thermostat setting came up again with my wife attempting to create a new womb in our home for him. Anyway there was no way anyone of us could tolerate 98˚F so I called on Mr. Google to come to our rescue before we all got roasted alive. Mr. Google was very helpful and recommended temperatures between 68 – 72˚F as ideal baby room temperature and settled the case on that impending disaster.

Whilst this may sound like a typical game of marital bickering this problem does go beyond that. For some arcane reason men and women function optimally at different ambient temperatures. Researchers in Germany investigated this and determined that current thermostat settings in most offices tended to favor men and significantly disadvantaged women. In this study investigators exposed 543 students 319 males and 224 females to temperatures ranging from 61 F to 90.6 F and had them perform various tasks. The tests performed by the students included maths tests, verbal skills as well tests on abstract reasoning described in the study as Cognitive Reflection Tests (CRT). Overall the study revealed that for every 1 F increase in ambient temperature women’s performance on maths tests improved by 3.2%. Males on the other-hand experienced worsening of performance but this was non significant.


The relationship between temperature and performance by gender.  The circles represent the average performance and temperature for each experimental session by gender, with circle size proportional to the number of subjects. The plotted solid line gives the linear projection of outcomes, with the dashed lines presenting the 95% confidence interval around the solid line

The charts above from the German researchers do suggest that within the temperature ranges 16 – 33˚C which translates to about 61 – 91˚F, women’s skills tended to improve as the temperature increases. The difference appears to be mostly due to the fact that women submitted more answers as the temperature increased.  At lower temperatures the female students made fewer attempts to answer the questions. This may suggest that females were more motivated and put in more effort as ambient temperatures got closer to their ideal temperatures.

The difference was most significant for Math skills, the researchers believe the impact of temperature changes on female performance may explain the persistent gender gap in Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) Maths scores even though this may not always be reflected in school performance. The SAT test is taken at a sitting in large halls with temperatures usually set at the common setting for most offices 70 – 73˚F well below 80˚F the point at which Maths performance of women approached that of men.  The College Board must consider doing research looking at ambients temperature and SAT performance and female test taker may want to consider trying to figure out the best temperature for their individual performance and start advocating possibly for more temperature appropriate test rooms for women.

“Winter Hunt” by Daniel Eskridge (2012)

In spite of all this research I know that this war would continue with most of us never really understanding why women want to spend their time in ovens whilst men walk around in shorts and sleeves in frigid cold weather. Maybe our prior hunter gatherer communities with division of labor whereby men hunted for game and women either grew crops or gathered plants may explain that.  In wintry weather most of such communities were mostly dependent on game and stored food from the harvest and as such men who could not run and think in cold weather where disadvantaged and as such less likely to pass on their genes.

Anyway until we “figure things out” as our dear President would say let us all make do with down coats and boxers as appropriate before we kill each other.

Dr. Leonard Sowah is an Internal Medicine Physician in Baltimore, Maryland




A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan

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