Setting the Scene by Setting the Temperature

Ambient temperature has a significant effect on how we think and behave.

Posted Jul 01, 2019

Across the Northern Hemisphere, storm clouds are beginning to gather. Sure, it’s getting to be thunderstorm season, but trouble is brewing indoors as well.

In workplace after workplace and home after home, there’s a fierce debate underway about the temperature at which the air conditioning should be set. There are those who seem to feel no temperature inside is too cold—even ones that would lead to the heat being turned on at a different time of year—and those for whom no temperature is too warm. How can those two groups be reconciled?

With science.

Research consistently shows that our brains seem to work best and we’re in our best moods when the thermostat is set to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and indoor humidity levels are moderate. Being in a good mood is important because when we are our analytical reasoning, creativity, and ability to get along with others (just for starters) are better than when we're not.

Anyone working or living in the modern era needs to know that ideally air will be heated/cooled to 70 degrees and that, if they plan to be indoors, they should dress in anticipation of being in a place at about this temperature. People should accept that they will be hot or cold if they dress for the tropics or the tundra instead of a temperate 70 degrees.

There is some slight fuzziness around this 70-degree mark, but any deviations will be geographically consistent; they are based on user life experiences. Since experiences are likely to be roughly the same for anyone in a space, these minor variations in positively perceived temperatures are unlikely to be a contentious issue.

Where the thermostat is set, if blinds are down or up, what sort of air movement people are experiencing, and similar factors are likely to have the biggest effects on how hot or cold people feel in a space, but science indicates that there are design elements that can be used to influence perceived temperatures. We feel slightly cooler when in a space featuring cool colors and warmer in one that’s filled with warm ones. Also, since our feet are really sensitive to cold and our heads to heat, it works out well if ambient heaters run through the floor and air conditions are placed about the level where our heads will be found when a space is in use.

Next time a temperature debate breaks out around you, lobby for the thermostat to be set at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit—your mental performance and well-being will benefit from your temperature-related wisdom.