Today I want to teach you all about a biological phenomenon that I learned about recently and found fascinating. The biological phenomenon concerns how our bodies experience temperature. And it most likely does NOT work like you think it does!
To start out, I want YOU to perform an experiment! Firstly, pick two objects in the room that have been in that room for a while (NB: the object should not be producing heat like an operating computer or phone (if it’s on standby then it can be used)). In the experiment, one of the objects should be a metal and the other object should be a plastic. Secondly, touch these two objects with your hand and think about the sensations you feel in your hand. If the experiment is done correctly these two sensations should be different.
Now a question about the experiment. Which object has a lower temperature?
Think about it for a second before you continue reading.
I will wait.
I am very sorry, it’s a trick question. The answer is: neither! The two objects are in fact the exact same temperature! (If you got this, then you either already understand the phenomenon which means you can stop reading or you guessed correctly which means lucky you! :P) But why then does one object feel colder than the other?
I will explain this to you now. The explanation has four parts.
Part One – Prove that the two objects are in fact the same temperature
The two objects that you have picked have both been in the same room for a while (if the experiment is done correctly). Therefore, they are acclimatized to the same room temperature by now and therefore because of physics they should be the same temperature.
Part Two – It’s not the temperature but the object that provides the different sensations
The objects are the same temperature. Therefore, the difference in feeling cannot be the temperature and has to be in the clear difference between the two “measurements”, i.e. the kind of object. One of the objects you touched is a metal (if the experiment is done correctly). Metals are fantastic heat conductors. Which in other words means that metals can efficiently transfer heat. The other object is plastic (if the experiment is done correctly). Plastics are terrible heat conductors and therefore don’t transfer heat effectively. Why are metals good heat conductors and plastics not? No idea, you have to look that up or study physics. But it’s important to know for the third part of the explanation.
Part Three – There is a heat exchange when you touch an object
The two objects are the same temperature. However, your hand does not have the same temperature as the objects because your body temperature is around 36,8 degrees (normally) and room temperature is around 20 degrees (normally). Therefore, there is difference in temperature and when you touch the object which leads to an heat exchange between your hand and the object.
Part Four - Your hand feels heat exchange not temperature
This is the final part of the explanation. One important thing to understand is that your body does not feel temperate it feels heat exchange. If something is cold, it’s because heat is leaving your body. This is why a metal object feels cooler than a plastic object even though they have the same temperature. The metal object is able to take away heat more effectively than the plastic which gives it a cooler sensation on your hand because the metal is taking away more heat than the plastic can. This is also the reason why being in 20 degrees water feels far cooler than being in 20 degrees air. Water is able to conduct heat away from your body way more effectively than air can.
That was it! I hope you enjoyed the experiment and learned something about physics, biology and yourself. If you want to learn more about this phenomenon and have someone explain it even better than me. Here is a link to a YouTube video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqDbMEdLiCss