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Today’s Ask Giz is: Why do you feel a temperature change immediately when entering a room?
This question comes from Graham in rural Queensland. “Shouldn’t it take some time for the temperature difference to penetrate to my nerve endings?” he added at the end.
Thanks for the question, Graham! We’re on the case.
Why do you feel a temperature change immediately when entering a room?
Surely you’ve felt it when going from a rainy, wet carpark into a nice warm McDonalds, or going from a stuffy, hot backyard into a cold, calm, air-conditioned house. Why do we feel the temperature change when entering the room so quickly?
To be honest, I had a lot of trouble trying to get to the bottom of this question. It’s a bit of a difficult one to answer, beyond the fact that it’s something we’re all familiar with.
As Scientific American says:
Thermoreceptors detect temperature changes. We are equipped with some thermoreceptors that are activated by cold conditions and others that are activated by heat. Warm receptors will turn up their signal rate when they feel warmth—or heat transfer into the body. Cooling—or heat transfer out of the body—results in a decreased signal rate. Cold receptors, on the other hand, increase their firing rate during cooling and decrease it during warming.
That kind of wraps it up quite nicely. We have specific receptors in, and throughout, our bodies that are honed to feel the change in temperature and translate it into sensations. Where you might be thinking that the sensation should be slower, consider that when you feel something on your skin (such as a furry pet or a metal door handle), the sensation is immediate. As heat and cold in a room can be roughly translated to properties impacting on the particles racing around in the space, it’s a similar process going on.
The difference between temperature and physical sensations is perhaps the warning they can provide the body. A seriously cold room, such as a cool room at the bottle-o, would be noticed immediately. Staying in said cool room could leave you with a chill, a sniffle and cold-like symptoms, as the body and its blood adjust to the conditions (and tries to maintain its body heat).
Perhaps part of this question surrounds unideal sensations, like when you enter a room and it is quite noticeably a worse temperature, translating to discomfort or pain. This is largely a different thing altogether. If we’re to compare it to instances when pain can be felt, such as in a car crash or with a cut, know that the body releases adrenaline, which can mask this physical pain (part of this is also “stress-induced analgesia”, which also plays a part in reducing the pain but raising stress levels). The body typically doesn’t do this for heat or cold except for in extreme circumstances (think Antarctica levels of cold or serious burns).
Stay cool, folks
Make sure to keep your body at a comfortable temperature no matter the room. If you need to rug up, rug up! If you need to cool down, wear less and let your body flush out excess heat.
Ask Giz is a fortnightly series where we answer your questions, be it tech, science, gadget, health or gaming related. This is a reader-involved series where we rely on Gizmodo Australia’s audience to submit questions. If you have a question for Giz, you can submit it here. Or check out the answer to our last Ask Giz: How Does My Cat Know to Use its Litter Box?