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It’s getting hot in here

It’s getting hot in here

With the current weather, it’s hard to believe that temperatures in Maastricht rose to an unprecedented 41 degrees in July. Perhaps the fact that temperatures were high during the summer break is for the better. At least for the performance of students, researchers, and Maastricht University staff. That is what you would think right: hot weather is bad for concentration. Well, you’re in for a surprise!

In a recent lab experiment, my colleagues and I exposed a group of sixty healthy, young male students to an indoor temperature of 28 degrees. After an hour in the room, the subjects took a series of psychological tests. We then ran the same experiment with the temperature in the lab set at 21 degrees, allowing us to evaluate the impact of temperature on human decision-making.

Not surprisingly, self-reported cognitive performance was strongly affected in the high-temperature setting. However, against our expectations, the results did not show any effect of heat on the actual ability of participants to make intelligent choices. Granted, temperatures did not reach 30 degrees, and perhaps effects are more pronounced for older people or women (we’re currently running experiments with those groups). But, taken at face value, the results suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about the impact of temperature on our ability to concentrate.

It’s not all good news though: indoor air quality is more than temperature alone. CO2 is another well-known culprit, and a recent Harvard study shows that elevated levels of CO2 have a significant effect on how you perform, and how you feel the next day. In a course that I recently taught, we measured high CO2 levels, all while temperatures remained in a pretty comfortable 21-23 degrees range. It makes you wonder how much the performance of students during courses and exams is affected by indoor air quality...

Before temperatures rise again, we’ll have more results to show. But in the meantime: open that window from time to time, letting CO2 out and fresh air in -- even if that means temperatures go up a little. You’ll be smarter and more productive for it.

Nils Kok, associate professor in Finance and Real Estate

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