The Effects of Air Temperature Variance on Memory Ability
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
PILMAN, M. S. (2001). The Effects of Air Temperature Variance on Memory Ability. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Air Temperature Variance on Memory Ability

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
This study tested how air temperature in a classroom environment affected memory ability among a sample of 52 undergraduate students (48 women and 4 men). It was hypothesized that greater variance in air temperature from the standard 72º F would lead to lower performance on tests involving memory. A computer test developed to measure memory was used in three different environments, varied by temperature: 72º, 80º, and 64º F. Results indicated that the 80º environment and the 64º environment had negative effects on memory ability. Future research could verify that classroom temperatures are important to a beneficial learning environment.

Succeeding in college is a major societal push in the United States. College students spend a significant amount of time in their classrooms attempting to learn. Would it not make sense to attempt to optimize the conduciveness of such enforced study environments so that students are able to remember more of what happens in their classes, thereby making the most of their time in class? Over the years, many different studies and reviews have found that there are many variable that effect explicit and implicit types of memory. In a research study done by Kristjansson (2000), it was found that there was a strong evidence that memory was present in visual search tasks. Participants were asked to identify a symbol on a screen as quickly as possible; after each trial, the symbol moved to another random location on the screen. When the target symbol appeared in the same location, it was found that it took longer for the participants to respond than if the target symbol had appeared in a new location. This finding was linked to memory in that it was believed that Participants were remembering the prior locations of the target and were refraining from checking the same spot twice. A later study, building on the findings of Kristjansson’s (2000) study, found that memory was affected by internal factors, including having too many distractors on the page of images or having too much information in our working memories for us to use visual searches (Woodman, Vogel, & Luck, 2001). This study used visual trials wherein the participants made speeded responses indicating the absence of figures on a screen and the participants made untimed responses indicating if the memory-test and the original memory array were identical. This area of study, internal effects on memory, has been slowly progressing over the last year or two. No significant amount of research was completed on this subject prior to 1995. In fact, researchers have continued this area by continuing to focus on working memory. It was concluded that memory plays a large role in the ability to speak written words audibly in two separate studies done on working memory in 2000 (Cheung, Kemper, & Leung; James & Burke). This conclusion spans language and age barriers, as the first study was performed in terms of ability to speak Cantonese and English and the second study was performed in terms of how word retrieval varied across ages of adults. Findings similar to those found in the aforementioned studies conducted by Cheung, Kemper, & Leung and James & Burke were compiled and analyzed in a review focusing on implicit memory and interference. By analyzing past studies, it was concluded that distractors account for a large percentage of interferences in memory functioning. According to this review written by Lustig and Hasher (2001), implicit memory was not immune to external or internal interferences. While this past research was useful especially in the area of the inner workings of memory, researchers have largely overlooked the area of external effects on memory. While quite a significant amount of research has been done on memory and learning, there was a very distinctive gap wherein there were no topics of past research tying memory or the like to such blatant external sources such as temperature. According to Sensation and Perception by Goldstein (2002), thermoceptors, the way our body responds to temperature, consists of warm and cold fibers. Each react more at different temperatures; warm fibers react from about 86º F to 1,118.4º F while cold fibers react from approximately 68º F to 113º F. Therefore, our bodies may be reacting to extremes in temperature, affecting our performance on certain tasks, without our knowledge of our deficit in our abilities. The objective of this research was to study the effect variances in air temperature in a classroom situation had on explicit memory. It was hypothesized, based on past research and placed in gaps of other, potentially nonexistent research, that the further the air temperature varies from 72º F in either direction, the lower the students will rate on their ability to remember while still in the altered environment. It is believed that if such subtle factors were capable of significantly effecting explicit memory, then for such blatant factors, for example temperature, the change yielding the relationship would be quite clear in the research results.

Participants 52 participants were tested for this study. The population of this research consisted primarily of undergraduate college students; students from Loyola University participated on a voluntary basis. The participants selected through convenience sampling, to the best of the investigator’s knowledge, represented all racial/ethnic groups. Participants were equal to or above the age of 18 years and both male and female participants were used. There were 48 female and 4 male participants. Most of the people who were participating received some type of course credit for their help.

Materials Informed consent forms were provided that explained the DV but not the IV to the participants. To test memory, a computer program using drum sets was used. The task consisted of reading the instructions for the program and completing five trials using four drums for each trial. A drum was a small square on the computer screen containing a picture. The four pictures that appeared on the drums were of a duck, a dog, a palm tree, and a child’s face. When a drum lit up, its colors inverted to indicate that it had been selected either by the computer or the participant. The program was on a gray scale and the drums were in black and white. The task consisted of repeating a building pattern by selecting the drums in the order they were highlighted. The task continued until the participant missed one of the correct responses. An example of one of the tasks would start with one of the four drums being highlighted by the computer program; after the drum was highlighted the participant was then supposed to highlight the same drum. Next, the computer highlighted the same drum as before and then randomly selected and highlighted one of the four drums. The participant then highlighted the same two drums in the order the computer program had highlighted them. This process continued until the participant did not correctly repeat the building pattern. The process would then start over for the next trial. A thermometer designed to measure to the tenth decimal place was use to record the temperature in the classroom. The thermometer was placed centrally in the room.

Design and Procedure The format of the research was a single variable between subjects experimental design. The dependant variable was memory as determined by the raw scores from the memory drums test described earlier. The independent variable was the variations in air temperature, specifically: 64º F, 72º F, and 80º F measured by the thermometer. Participants were tested in groups ranging from two to seven people. Upon arrival at the testing location, which was prepared at one of the three temperatures, 64º F the low, 72º F the control, or 80º F the high, participants were seated comfortably and were be given two identical informed consent forms: one to read, sign, and return to the researcher, and another to keep for their own records. Once consent had been obtained, the participants were asked to complete a series of short tests of memory on the computers in the room. Each participant worked individually on separate computers. Participants were allowed up to 15 minutes to perform these memory tests. The tests consisted of five separate drums trials at four drums per trial using the software described earlier. The participants were asked to self-report their scores on a score sheet. Once the tests were completed, participants were debriefed, all questions were answered, and the participants were thanked and dismissed.

It was hypothesized that the further the air temperature varied from 72º F in either direction, the lower the students would rate on their ability to remember while still in the altered environment. The two experimental groups, 80º F (M = 6.05, SD =1.63) and 64º F (M = 7.00, SD =1.69), and the control group, 72º F (M = 9.51, SD =1.99), were analyzed using a one-way ANOVA (F(2, 49)=17.795, p < 0.001). The LSD posthoc comparisons between 72º F and 64º F, and 72º F and 80º were found to be significant at the 0.05 level; however, the 80º F and the 64º did not differ.

Support was found for the original hypothesis that participants from the two experimental conditions performed significantly worse than the control, though not from each other. It was hypothesized that air temperature variation from 72º F in either direction, would yield lower scores on the performance of the participant on the memory test. In past studies, it has been found that memory was affected by internal factors, including having too many distractors (Woodman, Vogel, & Luck, 2001), as well as external factors, including interference (Lustig & Hasher, 2001). Distractors account for a large percentage of interferences in memory functioning, with temperature variance functioning as a hindrance to the completion of the memory tests in this instance even if the participant was not consciously focusing on the air temperature. It is believed that more participants should have been used in this study; however, due to the constraints of the situation, more participants were not readily available due to time constraints on the study. Theoretically, this data could be used to broaden the field of knowledge so that future research could be done along these lines concerning distractors in classroom environments. Improvements to this study should include the testing of more participants. Alterations for this study may be beneficial in the area of determining what else acts as a distractor in classroom environments from the primary goal, learning, besides air temperature variance. As concluded through past studies, memory played a large role in the ability to speak written words audibly (Cheung, Kemper, & Leung, 2000; James & Burke, 2000). This conclusion dealing heavily with languages is one area available for future research. Due to the nature of learning languages, perhaps there is a strong correlation between learning languages and atmospheric temperature, or other external interferences. Practical implications of the study include additions to the field of knowledge concerning effects on memory. Furthermore, these findings could be used as a basis for conducting future research on the external effects of learning so that colleges and other institutions of learning may take such factors into consideration when attempting to create beneficial environments to achieve their goals.

Cheung, H., Kemper, S., & Leung, E. (2000). A Phonological Account for the Cross-Language Variation in Working Memory Processing. The Psychological Record, 50, 373-386.Goldstein, E.B. (2002). The Cutaneous Senses. Sensation and Perception 6th ed., 443. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth-Thompson Learning.James, L.E. & Burke, D.M. (2000). Phonological Priming Effects on Word Retrieval and Tip-of-the-Tongue Experiences in Young and Older Adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology-Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26, 1378-1391. Retrieved October 31, 200` from, A. (2000). In Search of Remembrance: Evidence for Memory in Visual Search. Psychological Science, 11, 328-332.Lustig, CV. & Hasher, L. (2001) Implicit Memory Is Not Immune to Interference. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 618-628.Woodman, G.F., Vogel, E. K., & Luck, S.J. (2001). Visual Search Remains Efficient When Visual Working Memory Is Full. Psychological Science, 12, 219-224.

Submitted 12/15/2001 4:59:12 PM
Last Edited 12/15/2001 5:19:10 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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