Jack Nicholson in "the shining" Jack Nicholson in "the shining" Is it cold out there, or are you just getting smarter? (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Does cold weather make you smarter?

A new psychological study suggests that looking at photos of cold weather may improve alertness and ability to complete tasks.

Brain power, it seems, is a dish best served cold.

A new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University and Israel's Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gurion universities found that mere representations of temperature – a photo of a snowy landscape, for example – can improve cognitive control. In layman's terms, that means your brain works better when it's served something cold.

The study, published in the March edition of the Psychological Research journal, is actually two experiments in one. First, researchers asked participants to complete a task – in this case, they were presented with a moving object and asked to look away from it. Second, they added a background image to the participants' field of vision that depicted either winter, summer or neutral landscapes. They found that cool-temperature images, compared to warm images, led to "improved performance" on the task.

Cold weather can be brutal on your skin, but there are ways to cope.Cold weather doesn't always feel pleasant, but it might help you make better decisions. (Photo: Milles Studio/Shutterstock)

This new study is an extension of previous research that came to similar conclusions. Several studies over the years have shown links between hot temperatures and aggressive or impulsive behaviors, as well as poorer performance on tasks requiring brainpower. Knowing this, the three Israeli authors of the latest study – Eliran Halali of Stanford and Bar-Ilan universities; Nachshon Meiran of Ben-Gurion University; and Idit Shalev of Ben-Gurion – wanted to see if they could evoke better cognitive grasp not by actually changing the temperature, but by merely showing images of that temperature.

But don't start deleting all those tropical beach sunset photos from your phone, fear not. Both cold and warm-weather images produce their own set of benefits. "While warmth signaling promotes a relaxed attitude, cool signals alertness and possible need for greater cognitive control,” the authors wrote.


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