Response to thermal stress and personality

Physiol Behav. 2003 Oct;80(1):69-74. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9384(03)00225-7.


Tolerance to cold and heat exposure shows large variations for which there is still insufficient explanation. On the other hand the relationship between the responses to mental stress and individual personality is well documented. The aim of this study was then to find if personality traits have some influence on the responses to environmental temperature exposure. A group of 20 young adults were exposed for 90 min to cold (10 degrees C) while skin temperature (Ts), oxygen consumption and discomfort rating were recorded. In a second experiment they were exposed to heat (40 degrees C) for 90 min when the sweat rate and the discomfort rating were recorded. Prior to these tests the Big Five Personality Test was used to measure the personality traits of the subjects. The results show significant negative correlation between neuroticism and the O(2) consumed, the discomfort rating and Ts for the test in the cold, while extraversion was positively related to O(2) consumption but not to Ts and discomfort rating. In response to heat, neuroticism predominance was associated with greater discomfort, reduced tolerance and diminished sweat rate. The discomfort rating, in this case, was negatively related to extraversion. It is proposed that the reduced O(2) consumption in the cold and the lower rate of sweating in the heat observed with neuroticism, are caused by enhanced activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Further investigation is required to assess the validity of this proposal. Overall, the present investigation shows that physical environmental stresses, in common with mental stress, could be in some ways related to personality traits.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Extraversion, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurotic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Personality Assessment
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Temperature