Health and Medicine Question #3710

Katie, a 16 year old female from the Internet asks on November 22, 2006,

Does temperature affect the performance of the mind? Such as slowing down the thinking process? Is there a change at all?

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The answer

Barry Beyerstein answered on November 23, 2006

Ehor Boyanowsky a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University has done research on the subject. He showed that the old expression "hot head" with respect to people who fly off the handle when provoked is more than a mere metaphor. Rises in ambient temperature do affect various psychological processes.

At the other extreme, cooling the brain actually does slow down mental processes and this has even been used as a surgical anesthetic for people who for certain medical reasons are not good risks for chemical anesthesia. There have also been people who have been revived after extreme exposure to cold whose body core temperature fell so low that virtually all chemical activity in their brains had stopped. In other words, they were clinically dead, had no mental activity, but when their bodies were carefully raised to normal physiological temperature, they revived.

Boyanowsky adds: The best source is my article Violence and aggression in the heat of passion and in cold blood in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, (pdf download) 1999, 22, 257-271. Our experiments show that ambient hot temperature affects brain temperature, anger, ability to discriminate and it increases reactive or emotional aggression. On the other hand 10 celsius (50 fahrenheit) produces heightened attention, discrimination and appropriate response to instigation, i.e, instrumental aggression. Another study showed heightened sexual interest among males in 10 degrees celsius. Thus slight cooling actually enhances mental and emotional functioning, unlike extreme cooling.

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