Why Room Temperature Is a Game of Chicken

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The thermostat has always been a site of great contention, at home, at school, and at work. Whether you're fighting with your dad (and can't just put on another sweater) or an administrator who claims that cold helps you focus, you've probably had some personal battles with the temperature of a room. It's not actually the silliest of modern inconveniences — in fact, at heart, it's basically a power play.


Psychologists at Oxford University have just released a study looking into the connections we make between cold temperatures, cold-related words, and luxury. "From the time we are born, warmth is associated with closeness next to a mother's skin," said study author Rhonda Hadi. "Conversely, cool temperatures are linked to physical and social distance, which can make products feel more exclusive." In cases from high-end shops to marketing copy for "ice-cold diamonds," we tend to shell out more cash when we're a little chilly.

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This is true in a literal sense, but it also matters on the job. Decades of anecdotal evidence and now more than few scientific studies have shown that keeping an office cold is conclusively bad for employee productivity. Not being in control of your bodily comfort is a less overt method for a workplace of establishing who's in charge, but it certainly makes employees notice. As for shopping, warming up to a product may not actually produce a happy ending for the buyer: "Consumers should be aware," said Hadi, "that momentary feelings toward a luxury product in a cold store might fade at home."