January 2, 2009

If it were true that "'40 to 45 percent of body heat' is lost through the head," then going out without a hat would make you as cold as...

... going out without your pants.
This myth probably originated with an old military study in which scientists put subjects in arctic survival suits (but no hats) and measured their heat loss in extremely cold temperatures. Because it was the only part of the subjects’ bodies that was exposed to the cold, they lost the most heat through their heads. Experts say, however, that had this experiment been performed with subjects wearing only swimsuits, they would not have lost more than 10% of their body heat through their heads.
Now, now... if we're going to be scientific, we'll need to factor in the cold stares you get when you go out without your pants. I mean, take off the swimsuits! Accuracy will require nudity.

That link is from from a 2 part article debunking myths — here's part 2 — that was just linked on Freakonomics.

By the way, it was 19° here in Madison yesterday — the same temperature it was on New Year's Eve in New York City when Ryan Seacrest was whining about the cold while wearing a hugely puffy down jacket and earmuffs — and I saw a young man on State Street who was wearing only a T-shirt, shorts, and moccasins. Not even socks. He wasn't shivering or huddling against the cold, just walking along briskly, talking with his friends. 

I see guys like that all the time in Madison, and my theory is that — like people who sleep naked — they just don't want their limbs encumbered in the slightest, and they are walking from one indoor place to another and willing to put up with a little discomfort during the relocation.


Original George said...

I will continue eating chicken soup, thank you very much.

peter hoh said...

As long a we're not talking about sub-zero temps, and I've been indoors and warm for a while, I rather enjoy stepping into the cold.

Working in the cold is quite tolerable if you keep your feet, hands, and head warm. When I'm shoveling the walk, I often remove my coat.

Trooper York said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shanna said...

I’m not a big Ryan Seacreast fan or anything, but there is a big difference between standing still in the cold for a period of time and walking in it.

Expat(ish) said...

I used to walk our dog through snowdrifts in boulder wearing shorts, boots, and a t-shirt. I wasn't even fat (then) - just had a high metabolism.

I will tell you that when I am hunting if I do not have adequate head coverings I can't stay out long. I've lasted a few hours with cold legs and dead feet, but once my head gets so cold it aches I'm done for.

It may be that we feel cold in our heads differently than elsewhere.


Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Because I farm for a living, I work outside -- a LOT -- in all kinds of conditions. Many times it's the wool hat keeping me warm, whilst the rest of me is dressed for indoors, give or take a light vest.

In my experience, there's something to it, and I've lived everywhere from the southern US to the Canadian Arctic.

Geoff Matthews said...

I've found that if my head gets too cold, I can't think clearly. I wonder if the cold slows down the neural processes in my brain.

Lem said...

"That is a great hat, did the producers of Fargo have a garage sale?

knox said...

By the way, it was 19° here in Madison yesterday ... and I saw a young man on State Street who was wearing only a T-shirt, shorts, and moccasins. Not even socks. He wasn't shivering or huddling against the cold, just walking along briskly, talking with his friends.

Clearly insane.

chuck b. said...

If you're used to warm weather (I assume RS lives in LA) there will be an adjustment to sub-freezing temperatures.

I have big feet (not quite 40% of my body, but close) and when they are cold, my whole body is cold.

My life is very socks-oriented this time of year.

Larry J said...

People have different tolerances to the cold. When my wife and I were in San Diego last month, we heard a lot of people complaining about how cold it was. Why, it once got down to 41 degrees at night! Since we were visiting from Colorado, the temperatures felt quite comfortable to us (and my wife is sensitive to the cold). We'd go for long walks and wouldn't even need a jacket.

That said, when I was stationed in Nebraska (not just cold but damned cold!), a safety briefing taught me that one of the most dangerous temperatures for hypothermia is in the upper 40s to 50s. A lot of people go out in those temperatures and don't realize how fast they're losing body heat. Add to that if they're caught out unexpectedly, say if your car breaks down, you could be in the cold a lot longer than expected.

In short, dress for the outdoor conditions, not your destination.

ricpic said...

I love my black wool beret. It gives me that je ne sais quoi look.

Synova said...

The "Loser" trailer is interesting.

And if you're cold you don't care about the hat, and that is the *best* kind of hat EVER.

I was going to talk about a guy I knew who walked all over Minneapolis all winter in a t-shirt and how, in my experience, it's not a willingness to be cold, but that people who do that aren't cold... and that they usually have medical issues. IMO.

But the trailer reminded me of a different guy at the same school in Minneapolis... he'd come from Montana and dressed like a lumberjack and I think he had a hat like that... he just wasn't built like a lumberjack (though he actually had been one, once) he was short and skinny and older than the other students (he was 30) and had 5 o'clock shadow at breakfast.

And he played the banjo.

And the thing is... he expected to be thought of as a nerd and expected people to think that the banjo was hokey. And the thing is... live banjo is incredible. Maybe it's not something to listen to on tape, but meeting someone who can play? Wow.

SteveR said...

It's pretty easy to debunk nonsense.

Pogo said...

From the study: "In 17°C water, the head does not contribute relatively more than the rest of the body to surface heat loss; however, a cold-induced reduction of perfused body mass may allow this small increase in heat loss to cause a relatively larger cooling of the body core.

That is, the head effect may in fact be larger (but not 40 to 45 percent)

The study was done in water, not cold air, where breathing through the mouth and nose can affect temperature sensors in the oropharynx.

At some point science will prove what some commenters here have noticed: the head, hands and feet need somewhat greater protection from the cold than the chest and abdomen.

Ralph said...

My office/warehouse faces north on a bare hilltop that's the highest point for ten miles around. The wind is much worse than mere cold temperatures, which I can tolerate with a hat (not much hair left), ear covering not necessary. In winter, the sheet must cover my ear, or I can't sleep.

Original George said...

The juice of the grapefruit invariably flies straight to the human eye.

rcocean said...

For us bald guys, its at least 40 percent.

siyeh pass said...

About the lads in shorts this time of year, whether it' on State St. or in Dinkytown, it's an age thing...

Tibore said...

"and I saw a young man on State Street who was wearing only a T-shirt, shorts, and moccasins. Not even socks. He wasn't shivering or huddling against the cold, just walking along briskly, talking with his friends."

Simple explanation: He'z cuckoo.

But seriously folks, conditioning obviously has a great deal to do with cold tolerance. I recall being trapped in northern Minnesota during one real, real cold winter night (one of the reasons I resent business travel nowadays; it's not all San Diego and Miami in the computer biz :(  ). Temps were already below zero before the wind chill; I think I remember them saying 30 below or something around that point. Anyway, I had four layers on and was bundled up like Nanook of the fookin' north - I couldn't bring my arms all the way down to my sides, I had so much on - and I was shivering hard enough to mix a martini. Or a milkshake. Anyway, I recall this clearly because our truck broke down, and the fellow that came out of the convention center to help had nothing on but a regular, plain old shirt (at least it was long sleeved) and a windbreaker. A freakin' windbreaker. And jeans. No hat.

30-some below zero. I had 4 layers on and the last two - the sweater and the super-duper winter coat - were thick, and all this yahoo had on was a windbreaker.

Jesus Herbert Christ.

His comment? "Yah, just a bit nippy out, huh?" My reaction: Gritted teeth and suppressed the impluse to smack the bejeezus outta him. We needed his help to get a tow truck to us, so slapping him around for that obscene observation about the weather would have been inappropriate (albeit satisfying). Anyway, later on, he explained that he grew up in Minnesota (surprise, surprise), and was just used to the cold.

I break out the sweaters and thermal undies when it hits the low forties. Someone being blasé about sub-zero temperatures just amazes me.

Synova said...

Tibore... did you know that there is a distinct squeak of snow under your boots when it reaches 30 below and that 40 below is 40 below Celsius and 40 below Fahrenheit... both. :-)

Cold is cold.

And the stupid cows still have to be milked. ;-)

Ann Althouse said...

"A freakin' windbreaker. And jeans. No hat."

Yes, that's how I see most students on campus dressed on the coldest days. They are not wearing down jackets anymore.

Synova said...


Windbreakers are better than they used to be.

Kev said...

Tibore said:
"A freakin' windbreaker. And jeans. No hat."

And Althouse replied:
Yes, that's how I see most students on campus dressed on the coldest days. They are not wearing down jackets anymore.

My experience may be somewhat skewed, since I went to school in the Dallas area (where subzero temperatures are a rarity), but how students dress when going from class to class may well depend on the temperature inside the buildings, which, at my alma mater, were insanely hot. It made little sense to me to put on a whole bunch of layers to walk across the street if I'd be sweating by the time I got to class. Unfortunately, some of the public schools where I teach now are just as bad.

So, contrary to Larry J.'s advice, I dress for the destination and not the journey (although I still keep plenty of extra layers on hand for longer trips by car).

Host with the Most said...

Went streaking twice in my life.

I never talk about the time at 4:30 am through the Mayor's up scale neighborhood, temperature 29 degrees (cold for So Cal). 5 guys. Dark. Cold.

Let us never speak of this and shrinkage again.