Friday, 6 February 2015

Temperature vs. Productivity

According to Science Daily, "exposure to cold temperatures can help boost weight loss."  In the article, a study looked at Japanese workers who were put in a room for six weeks at 17˚C and reported that the workers showed a decrease in body fat.  Weight loss sounds preferable, but what about colder temperatures ranging from 0˚C to 10˚C?  In my last entry, I stated my concerns about how Japanese schools and students are insufficiently prepared for cold weather.  While weight loss may be a plausible, if not humorous, argument, I have reason to disagree.  After googling how the cold might affect the body's performance, and sifting through numerous links to health articles about extreme cold risks and hypothermia treatment, I finally came across something to support my argument.

A guy named Leo Widrich wrote a blog about how external factors affect performance in an office environment.  He took his findings from a few studies, one of which observed office workers in Florida.  The study found that when the room temperature increased from realively cold to comfortable conditions, workers' errors were reduced by 44%, key output (on computers) increased by 150%, and the company saved about $2.00 per worker in lost productivity.  From those findings, Widrich concluded that "the problem isn't feel uncomfortable," it's that "you are distracted."  Your body's energy is being used to keep warm instead of focusing on a given task.  More surfing on the Internet led me to find that the body also focuses on keeping you body core warm while the extremities, i.e. hands and feet, become colder, which explains why the workers in the Florida office had lower typing output in colder temperatures.  (I use 'colder temperatures' loosely as what's uncomfortable for someone in Florida would be a sweltering furnace to someone in, say, Alaska).

The same principle can be applied to schools in Japan.  Many of my students are shivering in class in the morning.  Cold hands mean it's also a challenge to write extensive notes, and sitting in a chair for fifty minute periods doesn't make them any warmer.  Furthermore, third year Junior High School students are writing entrance exams for High School during this season.  I wonder how their test scores would differ if the classrooms they wrote the tests in were warmer.

So clearly, there's a problem with insufficient preparation for the weather.  What kinds of solutions could solve this problem?  I mentioned in the beginning that prolonged exposure to cold temperatures promotes weight loss.  But people with higher body fat tend to be warmer than skinnier people because of the extra insulation in their bodies.  So perhaps Japanese students just need to gain a little weight.

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