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NOLAN, K. D. (2005). The Effects of Temperature on Motor Performance. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 8. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 28, 2023 .

The Effects of Temperature on Motor Performance

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
Does temperature affect performance? The purpose of this study was to determine if various temperatures would have an effect on performance. The hypothesis was that the group subjected to the cold temperature condition would have lower scores in speed than the other groups but would have higher scores in accuracy than the group subjected to the hot temperature condition. Also, the group subjected to the warm temperature condition was expected to have the highest speed and accuracy scores. Ultimately, there was no significant difference between the different temperature conditions and the scores in speed and accuracy.

Motor skills are those abilities that require the interaction of the brain, skeleton, nervous system and joints to function properly. Motor skills are broken down into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are those abilities related to movement in the large muscles in the body. These usually develop earlier in life and are fairly easy to master. Some examples of gross motor skills are walking, catching a ball, or jumping rope. Fine motor skills are those abilities that require small muscle movement, usually dealing with the hands, and entail precision. These develop over time. They start out unrefined and evolve into precise movements. Some examples of these are writing, drawing, or playing musical instruments. Manual performance is a combination of many kinds of skills which require good tactile sensitivity, hand dexterity, muscle strength and motor coordination (Imamura et al, 1998). Human motor development is very important in aiding performance. Many things other than birth defects, diseases, and certain body malfunctions can affect performance. One of those things is the temperature of the surrounding environment. High ambient temperatures can affect performance. Temperatures that are too high can have a significant effect on certain physiological measures, such as dehydration, profuse sweating, vision impairment, etc. Ultimately, these things lead to a decline in performance (Faerevik, 2003). When exposed to low ambient temperatures for a long time visual-motor performance can be affected. Performance is markedly and immediately impaired in the cold and recovers gradually with massed practice but to lower levels than attained under optimal conditions (Teichner, 1955). Lindinger (1999) stated that humans can only withstand about a 5 degree internal body temperature variation before physical and mental ability is impaired. The control of body temperature depends on the balance between overcooling and overheating. The normal temperature of the body is 98 degrees F. Temperature must stay between 98 degrees and 104 degrees (Wright et al, 2002). According to Pilcher and Nadler (2002), there has been conflicting findings on the effects that hot and cold temperature exposure can have on performance. Some studies report little to no performance loss under extreme temperature exposure, whereas others reported performance loss. One possible reason given for this type of variability in data was that specific types of tasks, severity of temperature exposure and the duration of the temperature exposure, more than likely, were not taken into account. The purpose of Pilcher and Nadler`s study was basically to compare and contrast the primary studies` control and experimental groups mathematically. They were trying to find consistencies in data that would help generalize across populations. What was found was exposure to cold temperatures resulted in worse performance than hot temperature conditions. The greatest deficit in performance occurred under the coldest conditions. The cold condition was classified as below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the hot condition was classified as greater than or equal to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The closer the temperature was to a more neutral range the less effect it had on performance. The length of the experimental session had an effect on performance as well. The longer the experimental session, the less negative the effect on performance. However, when exposed to the temperature prior to task performance, the longer the exposure, the worse the performance. Performance was also affected by the type of task and task duration. Most affected by exposure to hot temperature conditions were mathematics, attention and perception type tasks. The tasks that were affected most by colder environments were reasoning, learning and memory, whereas hot environments resulted in a slight improvement on these types of tasks. Ultimately, the result of the relationship between performance and the degree of temperature exposure was an inverted U-shape function. This type of information can be extremely useful when dealing with work environments where the employees may be involved in a variety of tasks and a variety of temperature conditions. Environmental temperatures between 86 degrees and 92 degrees Fahrenheit had a negative effect on complex perceptual motor task performance but no consistent effect was found in cognitive tasks or very simple perceptual motor tasks. However, it was found that too high or too low body temperatures can indirectly affect performance by negatively affecting cognitive performance (Wright et al, 2002). It is necessary to know that some factors can affect motor performance. Environmental temperatures can affect performance. As discussed previously, if hot and cold temperatures deviate too much performance can be affected. The purpose of this study will be to see if hot and cold temperatures will have an effect on a fine motor task, specifically typing.


Data were collected from 24 college students at Missouri Western State University. Seventeen of the participants were female, 7 were male. Fifteen of the participants were enrolled in PSY 101. Nine were upperclassmen, taking one or more psychology courses.

Typing software from TypingMaster Finland, Inc.s 2004 version was used. Rubbermaid brand 50 ounce bowls were used. A thermometer was used to test the temperature of the water.

Participants were separated into 3 groups, each group consisting of 8 people. One group was tested in 88 Fahrenheit water (Group A), another was tested in 67 Fahrenheit water (Group B), and the other was tested in 47 Fahrenheit water (Group C). Participants were asked to place both of their hands, submerged all the way up to the wrist, into the water for 2 minutes. After drying their hands, they waited 10 seconds and then proceeded to take a typing test. The test was scored by the software. Speed and accuracy were measured.

Two one-way ANOVAs were used to score the data. The typing scores of the participants subjected to the 3 different temperature conditions were compared using a one-way ANOVA. No significant difference was found (F (2, 21) =.67, p>.05). The different temperatures had no significant effect on the typing speed of the participants. The accuracy scores of the participants were compared using a one-way ANOVA. No significant difference was found (F (2, 21) =.74, p>.05). The different temperatures did not have a significant effect on the accuracy of the participants. (See Figure 1 for average scores).

The results of this study were not statistically significant. Being subjected to hot, warm, and cold temperatures apparently did not have an effect on typing speed or accuracy. The hypothesis stated that the speed scores of the participants in Group C would be lower than those in the other 2 groups, but the accuracy scores of Group C would be higher than those in Group A. The hypothesis also stated that Group B would score the highest in both speed and accuracy. The results do not support the hypothesis. The results of this study were different than the results obtained in the Imamura (1998) study where manual performance was affected negatively by the prolonged exposure to low temperatures. Nor were these results supported by the study done by Pilcher and Nadler (2002) where hot temperature conditions affect performance negatively, also. Although the hypothesis was not supported by the results, many studies in the past have concluded that, indeed, environmental temperature does affect performance in the workplace, at school, in sports and other situations. One of the major limitations in this study was the number of participants. With a wider range of participants a difference may be found. Also, because there was no significant difference in the temperatures of the water, the temperatures could be spread out a little more to become more extreme. Another limitation was possibly the amount of time that the participants were exposed to the different temperature conditions. In almost all of the past studies the participants were exposed for more than 5 minutes to each condition.

Faerevik, H. & Reinertsen, R. E. (2003). Effects of wearing aircrew protective clothing on physiological and cognitive responses under various ambient conditions. Ergonomics, 46, 780-799.Imamura, R. & Rissanen, S. (1998). Manual performance in cold conditions while wearing NBC clothing. Ergonomics, 41, 1421-1432.Lindinger, M. I. (1999). Exercise in the heat: Thermoregulatory limitations to performance in humans and horses. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 24, 152-163.Pilcher, J.J. & Nadler, E. (2002). Effects of hot and cold temperature exposure on performance: A meta-analytic review. Ergonomics, 45, 682-689.Teichner, W. H., & Kobrick, J. J. (1955). Effects of prolonged exposure to low temperature on visual-motor performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 49, 122-126.Wright, K. P., & Hull, J. T., & Czeisler, C. A. (2002). Relationship between alertness, performance, and body temperature in humans. American Journal of Physiology, 283, R1370-R1377.


Submitted 12/8/2005 12:44:40 PM
Last Edited 12/8/2005 1:03:24 PM
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