Did you know that temperature affects complex decision making?
Say you’re vacationing in Texas in the dead of summer and you run to the store to buy something you need. There are two choices: one is a more familiar option and the other is unfamiliar and a little more complicated. Studies say you’re more likely to buy the familiar product on that particular day than you would in the dead of winter. This is because on a hot day you may not have the cognitive resources to make a more complex decision.
The thought that temperature can influence decision-making skills may seem far-fetched, but it’s backed up by science. Our brains, like any other organ, need energy to function, and that energy comes in the form of glucose. We not only need glucose to walk, talk, breathe, and perform daily activities, we even need it to perform mental functions, such as practicing self-control, making decisions, suppressing emotional responses, and solving problems. Yet, glucose is a limited resource. On hot days, our bodies use a lot of glucose simply maintaining our internal temperatures, and that means less glucose for mental processes like evaluating new information to make a decision. When temperatures are higher, studies show that we also give up more easily, make more mistakes, and even avoid complex decisions in the first place.
If you live in a warm climate, don’t worry! These results do not mean that you consistently make poorer decisions than people who live in cooler parts of the world. Humans are adaptive and are able to acclimate over time, performing just as well in various temperatures. If you’re visiting someplace new, however, with temperatures different from what you’re used to experiencing, your decisions may be impacted. You may not be able to control the temperature in your new environment, but you can be aware of how the change can affect your decisions throughout the day.