You remember the commercial, although some in your company likely don’t …
There’s an egg — “This is your brain.”
Enter hot frying pan — “This is drugs.”
Egg meets frying pan — “This is your brain on drugs. … Any questions?”
Doesn’t that whole metaphor make your brain on drugs seem a little too much like part of a delicious, nutritious breakfast? Maybe we should leave that to the zombie community and turn our attention to Harvard University, where some researchers who are interested in the effects of temperature have released their work: “Reduced cognitive function during a heat wave among residents of non-air-conditioned buildings: An observational study of young adults in the summer of 2016.”
SLOWER AND WORSE
In the summer of 2016, one group of students stayed in a 1990s-era building with central air conditioning, while a second group lived in nearby, older buildings that had no air conditioning. The student rooms were monitored for not just temperature but CO2, humidity, and noise, and the participants also wore wearable devices that tracked their physical activity and sleep patterns.
The study covered a few days of seasonable temperatures and also a considerable heat wave. Each morning, all the students took a color-word match test and an addition/subtraction test on their smartphones.
How did the groups compare? During the heat wave, the no-a/c students took about 13 percent longer on the color-word tests, and they also scored about 13 percent worse than the more comfortable students on the math tests. As far as I can tell, there was no control for the previous night’s alcohol consumption or for the chance to have some coffee first, but the beverage industry can take that up on its own time. The fairly clear result is that air conditioning makes the world a smarter place. Plus, the children are the future, so thanks a lot. As the song almost went, teach them well in a comfortable environment and let them lead the way.
COOL TOWN, EVENING IN THE CITY
You probably also know the late-’60s hit, “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. I’ll wait while you go revisit it on YouTube. Catchy, right? Its whole premise is that, naturally, those urban summer days are brutal, but the nights … ahhhhh, relief. Well, it turns out science backs that up, too, but not the way you might expect.
A study in 2000 suggested that once outdoor temperatures hit 80°F or so, violence actually levels off and starts to decline a little bit. Surprising. However, in 2005, an Iowa State University psychologist, Craig Anderson, re-opened the data and found that violence continued to tick upward above 80°, if you accounted for the time of day. In particular, Anderson found that among the periods with temperatures above 80°, 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. was the highest-risk time for assaults — hardly the hottest time of the day. Now, you can speculate on other contributing factors, but that says to me that the song had a nugget of wisdom in it. People are psychologically prepared for hot daytime temps in summer — as long as they can get that little bit of a breather when night falls. If they can’t … then you get into a situation that invites a special kind of grouchy.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TECHS?
So to recap: Effective air conditioning helps create not just a more comfortable today but a better tomorrow by protecting brain function among young adults who are especially focused on learning stuff. Also, climate control aids in keeping the peace in summer. And yet, HVAC contractors are left to deal with a truly uncomfortable irony: to deliver the cool, they often have to work in the heat, both inside and outside.
Have you seen any creative methods to keep HVAC techs more comfortable (and presumably, sharper mentally) during the workday? Send me a note about any cool (pun intended) tactics, whether companywide or individual heat hacks.
Publication date: 8/6/2018
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