New research has found that when it’s uncomfortably hot, we’re less likely to be helpful or “prosocial.”
Published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the three-part study helps to explain how and through what mechanisms temperature influences individual helping.
For part one of the study, associate professor Dr. Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Dr. Maryam Kouchaki, assistant professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, used data provided by a large Russian retail chain to analyze differences in individual behavior under hot versus normal temperature conditions.
Clerks working in an uncomfortably hot environment, according to the data, were 50 percent less likely to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as volunteering to help customers, listening actively and making suggestions.
“In part two of the study — a randomized online experiment — we asked a paid online panel to just recall or imagine situations where they were uncomfortably hot and then, after measuring their feelings and perceptions and a number of survey questions, asked them to help with another survey for free,” Belkin said.
“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.”
Only 34 percent of the participants who were asked to recall a time when they were uncomfortably hot were willing to help with the free survey, compared to 76 percent in the control group, the researchers reported.
In part three of the study, the researchers found that even slight fluctuations in temperature changed behavior.
Belkin chose students in two sections of a college management course as subjects for a field experiment. One group sat in a lecture in a room that was uncomfortably warm, while the other group sat in an air conditioned room. She then asked the students to answer a series of questions and fill out a survey “for a non-profit organization that serves children and underprivileged individuals in the local community.”
Only 64 percent in the hotter room agreed to answer at least one question, while in the cooler room, 95 percent did so, she said.
She added that, interestingly, even those who agreed to help in the hotter room helped less, answering, on average, six questions, almost six times less than the number of questions answered by the students in the cooler room, who answered an average of 35 questions.
Source: Lehigh University