We all have different preferences for when it’s the right time to bring out and put away the winter warmers. And the temperature setting often forms the basis of many office arguments between women and men regarding the “correct” temperature for it to be set to.

The factor of temperature preference between male and female extends to several species other than humans. Image credit: RACA Journal | Benjamin Brits

The factor of temperature preference between male and female extends to several species other than humans. Image credit: RACA Journal | Benjamin Brits

Between genders, there are always more similarities than differences. But research does consistently show that women prefer a higher temperature to men, particularly indoors.

But is there any science backing up the widespread belief that women “feel the cold” more than men?

Biological differences between men and women

At around equal body weight, women tend to have less muscle to generate heat. Women’s physiology also includes more fat between the skin and the muscles, so the skin feels colder, as it’s slightly further away from blood vessels.

Women also tend to have a lower metabolic rate than men, which reduces heat production capacity during cold exposure, making women more prone to feeling cold as the temperature drops.

Hormonal differences

The hormones – oestrogen and progesterone, found in large quantities in women, contribute to the core body and skin temperatures.

Oestrogen dilates blood vessels at the extremities. This means more heat can be lost to the surrounding air. And progesterone can cause the vessels in the skin to constrict, meaning less blood will flow to some areas to keep the internal organs warmer, leaving women feeling cooler. This hormone balance also changes throughout the month. The female core body temperature is highest in the week after ovulation, as progesterone levels increase. This means that around this time, women may be particularly sensitive to cooler outside temperatures.

The hormones also make women’s hands, feet and ears stay around three degrees Celsius cooler than men.

Although the hands and feet are cooler, women do have warmer average core temperatures than men. This is likely the source of the saying “cold hands, warm heart”.

Is it just humans that experience this?

The phenomenon that some of us prefer warmer temperatures to others isn’t unique to humans. Studies on many species of birds and mammals report that males commonly congregate in cooler areas where there is shade, while females and offspring stay in warmer environments where there is sunlight.

Male bats for example prefer to rest at the cool, high peaks of mountains, whereas females remain in the warmer valleys.

Female mammals may have developed a preference for warmer climates to encourage them to rest with offspring during stages when the young are unable to regulate their own body temperature. So the difference between heat-sensing mechanisms may provide an evolutionary advantage.

So how do we agree on the ideal temperature?

In the workplace, personal comfort systems are thermal systems that heat or cool and can, today, be locally positioned in individual workstations such as desktops, chairs, or near the feet and legs. Examples include small desk fans, heated chairs, or footwarmers.

These systems provide individualised thermal comfort to meet personal needs without affecting others in the same space and have been found to produce higher comfort satisfaction in the workplace. [New technology, particularly in the adoption of “hot desks” takes the factor of individual comfort heating and cooling into account for space users].

They are also energy-efficient method to balance thermal comfort and health in office environments.

Article source: The Conversation Africa by Charlotte Phelps – PhD student, Bond University and Christian Moro – associate professor of Science & Medicine, Bond University