Temperature and Evaluation

Ambient temperature influences how we judge the transgressions of others. 

Gockel, Kolb, and Werth conducted “a lab experiment [to determine] how ambient temperature within a comfort zone influences judgments of criminals. Participants in rooms with low temperature regarded criminals to be more cold-blooded than participants in rooms with high temperature. . . . Likewise, participants in rooms with high temperature regarded criminals to be more hot-headed than participants in rooms with low temperature: They were more likely to attribute impulsive crimes.”  Criminal penalties assessed are often related to whether crimes are seen as planned or impulsive. 

Data were collected in spaces at 19.9 degrees Celsius (67.8 degrees Fahrenheit), 23.8 degrees Celsius (74.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and 26.2 degrees Celsius (79.2 degrees Fahrenheit).  The researchers state that “These temperatures were chosen because they correspond to the lower, medium, and upper levels of the comfort zone.”  

Responses by people in the mid-range temperature and the highest temperature spaces were equivalent, and the researchers conclude that  “To sum, participants in low temperature were more likely to attribute premeditated crimes, tended to ascribe crimes resulting in higher degrees of penalty. . . than participants in medium or high temperature. Thus, the . . . effects seem to be driven more by low than by high temperature.” 

These findings are relevant not only to HVAC systems, etc., used in courtrooms, jury rooms, and places where prisoners are interrogated but also to the design of other locations, such as human resource department offices, where the actions of people are also evaluated.

For more information on the emotional and cognitive effects of temperature, read this article.

Christine Gockel, Peter Kolb, and Lioba Werth.  2014.  “Murder or Not?  Cold Temperature Makes Criminals Appear to Be Cold-Blooded and Warm Temperature to Be Hot-Headed.”  PLoS ONE, vol. 9, no. 4.