Study: Oppressive summertime heat makes people moody, unhelpful

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — With summer officially underway, children head to camp, families flock to the beach, and plenty of others look to get outside however and whenever they can to enjoy the warm weather. But the heat isn’t for everyone, and a new study finds that when temperatures become too toasty, people grow moodier and more unwilling to help others out.

Researchers from Lehigh University and Northwestern University led a three-part study to see how the sweltering heat affects someone’s personality and social graces.

The summer heat isn’t for everyone. A new study finds that people become moodier and less helpful when they’re uncomfortably hot.

In the first part of the study, the team examined data provided by a Russian retail chain that showed how employees perform when temperatures rise. The researchers found that in an “uncomfortably hot environment,” clerks were 50 percent less likely to provide helpful service to customers, whether it’s offering suggestions on products or simply asking them if they even need assistance.

The second leg of the study had participants take part in a paid online experiment. Individuals were told to recall a time where they were out in the stifling heat and answer questions about the experience. Afterwards, participants were asked to take part in a separate survey — but for free.

The results were telling: Only 34 percent of the participants volunteered to do the second survey after thinking about the hot weather. Conversely, 76 percent of participants in a control group who weren’t tasked with recalling the heat offered to take part.

“Participants weren’t even experiencing heat at the moment — and we still found that, compared to the control group, the participants were more fatigued, which reduced their positive affect and, ultimately, prosocial behavior,” says lead researcher Liuba Belkin, an associate professor at the university, in a press release.

In the third portion of the study, students from two different classes for the same college management course were asked to fill out a survey for a local charity benefiting underprivileged children. The caveat: one class sat in a room that was air conditioned and the other sat in a room that was uncomfortably warm.

In actuality, there was only a 15 percent difference in temperature, but again, those who were in the hotter setting were considerably less willing to do the survey — just 64 percent were open to answering at least one question, compared to 95 percent of the students in the cooler room.

Overall, students in the warmer room who opted to take the survey answered six questions on average. Those in the cooler room answered 35 questions on average.

“The point of our study is that ambient temperature affects individual states that shape emotional and behavioral reactions, so people help less in an uncomfortable environment, whatever the reason they come up with to justify why they cannot do,” says Belkin in an interview with Quartz.

The study was published last month in the European Journal of Social Psychology.


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