Here's the weather this week (and basically every week in July and August) in my part of the world:

A bit warm, right? Want to know how I feel about it? I feel like I will punch anyone in the face who suggests that eating ice cream sandwiches for dinner every night is not a correct and healthy response to current climatic conditions.

Am I a weirdo? Maybe my extreme crankiness is just a personal fault. It's a fair question (I've asked it myself as I turn on yet another fan and still want to murder anyone who mentions the word 'productivity'), but I'm happy to report that it seems I'm not alone in being far from my best self when the temperature rises.

New psychological research confirms what many have long suspected -- heat waves really do turn people into jerks.

How to be nicer: turn on the AC

For the study a pair of business school professors recruited two groups of test subjects to torment with heat. The first bunch were retail workers at a chain store. The researchers discovered that when the store was uncomfortably warm, these employees became much less helpful. In fact, they "were 50 percent less likely to engage in prosocial behavior such as volunteering to help customers, listening actively, and making suggestions," reports Christopher Bergland on Psychology Today (hat tip to Science of Us).

The second group of guinea pigs were college students, half of whom were asked to complete a survey for charity in an overheated room, and half of whom got to do the same task in a nice cool one. Guess who was more willing to help out people in need? Yup, the comfortable bunch were far more generous, but you might be shocked by the magnitude of the difference.

"Only 64 percent of participants in the hotter room agreed to answer at least one question compared to 95 percent in the cooler room," notes Bergland. Being overheated doesn't just have make us a touch crankier then, it can cause far more drastic changes to our behavior.

Why is that? Less quality sleep, dehydration, restricted movement, and an inability to do anything constructive about the situation are part of the problem. But heat also directly affects our bodies. "An increase in body temperature causes an increase in physical arousal - your heart rate goes up and your blood pressure rises as your poor body tries to cool itself off, and that can be bad news for your behavior, because increased physical arousal is known to be linked to aggressive behavior," experts explained to USA Today.

The takeaway

What's the lesson here? The first and most obvious is a simple business truth -- splashing out to keep your workers cool will pay off in a lot more productive (and cheerful) workplace.

But there are lessons here even for those who don't control the AC and aren't particularly surprised by the findings. We may all have suspected that heat waves don't bring out our best selves, but having scientific confirmation of the fact should nudge you to be more aware of the effect. And if you know that high temperatures are likely to make you behave in ways you won't be proud of later, you're better armed to stop yourself before you take your discomfort out on others.

How do you control your heat rage? Bergland suggests deep breathing. "If you do get stuck in an uncomfortably hot environment, taking a few slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths with a long exhale is always going to be the quickest way to engage the 'tending-and-befriending' mechanisms of your parasympathetic vagus system [aka the better angels of your nature]," he writes.

Also, thanks to this study I can now at least rest easier knowing I'm not a total freak. I'm going to have an ice cream sandwich to celebrate.

Published on: Jul 20, 2017
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