If you commute to work in the middle of July with a sweater tucked under your arm, according to a recent study, you’re not alone. Researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands studied air conditioning settings in office buildings and found that there’s a scientific explanation for why some feel the cold more than others.

In most buildings, the temperature is not arbitrarily chosen by the office manager but actually based on a formula known as the Predicted Percentage of Dissatisfied (PPD). According to VOX, the PPD is based on experiments conducted by Danish researcher P.Ole Fanger on his 1,300 students in the 1960s. The formula takes various factors into account in order to gauge the ideal temperature for comfort in an office building, such as the building’s humidity, airflow, and typical clothing worn by workers. The PPD formula also factors in the workers' metabolic rates, or the amount of heat their bodies generate. However, according to a recent study, there is a major flaw with these calculations, since the original PPD was based on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old, 155-pound male.

Your metabolic rate is the amount of daily energy that you will exert while at rest in a neutral environment. It is largely based on both body size and gender, two factors that the office temperature calculations do not take into consideration. As a result, some are left less than comfortable. This is most notable for female workers, who research has shown generally have a lower metabolic rate than men, making them able to generate less heat and therefore more likely to feel cold.  

To prove this inequality in office temperatures, the Dutch team had 16 women conduct light office work while their actual metabolic output, as measured by skin temperature, was noted. Results revealed that the women’s metabolic rates were between 20 and 32 percent lower than those used to determine the temperature in the PPD. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that it's time to revise working temperature regulations.

“Thermal comfort models need to adjust the current metabolic standard by including the actual values for females,” the study authors wrote.

A 2014 study found that the physical sensation of feeling cold is actually contagious, and that merely watching a video of another person experiencing cold caused a physical change in body temperature of the viewer. The phenomenon is caused by “mirror neurons” and also explains why we tend to automatically mimic the facial expressions, sounds, posture, and movements of others. Based on this, even if you don't feel cold at first, the sight of one shivering woman can suddenly transform the office into the Arctic tundra.

Cold isn't just uncomfortable, it's disruptive to work capacity. According to the Washington Post, cold makes workers more likely to make errors and be less productive. So, the team hopes their findings can be significant to “the next round of revisions of thermal comfort standards,” and help to make a more comfortable work setting for all professionals.

Source:Kingma B, van Marken Lichtenbelt. Energy consumption in buildings and female thermal demand. Nature Climate Change. 2015.