Climate change is ever-present today and rising temperatures are one of the many things that is obviously a manifestation of this devastating event. While the more known effects of climate change are seen in the environment, such as rising sea levels and disappearing glaciers, there are greater impacts on human health and behavior that are lurking behind the scenes. Scientists believe there are more lasting impacts of climate change that could affect human health and behavior. The summer months, in particular, have shown that this is the time when violence peaks. It is a pattern that is well-known by psychologists and researchers all over the world, and various experiments and papers have been done to investigate that heat might be responsible for rising aggression and violence.
The human body and temperature change
Physiologically, the human body is not built to handle humidity and high temperatures that are higher than 35 degrees Celsius. Researchers have long studied the link between extreme heat and increased levels of aggression, lost productivity, and lower cognitive levels. However, much of the world’s data and studies today have been limited to laboratory settings, which have a high degree of control. And these studies fail to recreate other biological and environmental variables that are linked to aggression in the real world. This is why proper testing and research is important in measuring the impacts of climate change.
Social Psychology Experiment on Heat and Perceived Hostility
One of these studies includes the work of social psychologist Craig Anderson and colleagues, who studied undergraduate students in terms of their perception of aggression and hostility. The subjects were shown 4 clips of couples talking. The first clip was a couple walking in a neutral tone while the 4 other clips were couples showing escalating tension.
The undergraduates were placed in different rooms with thermostats that were set to one of 5 different temperatures that range from 14 degrees Celsius to a hot 36 degrees Celsius. The subjects were then asked to rate the couples’ hostility levels. Researchers found that the subjects who were placed in rooms with high temperatures scored all the couples as hostile, even the ones who were having a neutral conversation. Students who were in uncomfortable cold temperatures also scored the same way.
The result of the study showed that people tend to perceive things as nastier when they are placed in an environment where the temperature is uncomfortable. This hypothesis has been called the “heat-aggression hypothesis,” and while the mentioned study may occur in a laboratory setting, recent studies today actually support the idea.
Heat and Reduced Productivity
This pattern is not only limited to human behavior but also impacts overall productivity. Furthermore, appetite might also decrease in some, which can be a dangerous side effect, especially if it continues for too long; however, more research is needed in this area. In India, where citizens for the past 10 years have been experiencing higher temperatures, less predictable weather, and low rainfall due to climate change, the impacts are far more obvious than most of the world. In a study by Meenu Tewari, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues, they observed that weavers in India had dropped their productivity level by 2% and garment workers by as much as 8% when the temperatures reached 35 degrees Celsius and more. Employers have used measures to prevent this from happening, such as having earlier working hours where employees work early in the morning and leave work late in the day. In between, when the heat is scorching, workers are encouraged to take siestas and rest.
The solution, according to Matthew Khan, who is an environmental economist of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, believes that the answer is to provide enough air conditioning to buildings and indoor spaces. However, it’s not that easy to do due to the fact that it’s quite expensive. Despite these challenges, Khan says that is why we need to expedite efforts to make the energy greed greener. Once we make this happen, climate change can be one less factor in rising crime rates and reduced productivity.
Studies and research reveal the damaging effects of climate change on human behavior, such as increased levels of aggression and reduced productivity. While rising temperatures can’t be stopped right now, the use of more air conditioning in indoor spaces can help prevent these negative consequences. However, because the cost of air conditioning and energy use can be far more costly than its benefits, greener solutions for making indoor spaces more comfortable in terms of temperature are the better solution.