Temperature and emotion


"The most effective source of energy in our lives is and always will be human warmth," says the Austrian poet Ernst Ferstl – and therefore makes clear: heat and warmth are not just technically measurable temperatures. But also emotion. We speak of the warm working atmosphere and warm-heartedness, we warm to something or we furnish and decorate our homes with warm colours. How do these different aspects of heat and warmth arise, what do they mean?

Scientifically speaking, there is actually no such thing as warm-heartedness. Helmut Wicht, biologist and lecturer in anatomy at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, states quite clearly: emotions are generated in the brain and not in the heart muscle. To be precise: in the nucleus accumbens, the reward and reinforcement system of our brain. This is where the feeling of happiness is created. And the idea that we see with our eyes is not entirely correct, either. For in order to perceive our environment, we do not just need our eyes but above all our brain. It is only in the brain that colour, for example, is recognised and given meaning – that is to say, perceived as warm or cold.

Colours and their effect

From the warm to the cold spectrum – colours have an influence on our mood, feeling and sensitivity to heat.

x00_waerme_icons_rotactivates the blood pressure and creates a feeling of warmth – interior designers recommend to use red colour accents sparingly.


x00_waerme_icon_orangeis considered in psychology to raise the spirits and be stimulating.


x00_waerme_icon_gelbalso has a stimulating effect and is good for use in dining and living rooms.


x00_waerme_icons_lilastands for spirituality or the mystical. For religious people, it is the colour of reflection, penance, contemplation and conversion.


x00_waerme_icons_blauhas, as a cool colour, a calming effect but can also make sensitive people actually shiver.


x00_waerme_icons_gruenpromotes concentration as long as it does not have too much of a yellow tinge.


Muscles as dispensers of heat

So much for the brain. Further heat processes also take place in other parts of the body. For example, our muscles give off about two-thirds of their energy to the body as heat. One interesting fact: because the female body has fewer muscles than the male body, women freeze more quickly than men. And they get cold feet faster, too. For the human organism wants to keep the internal organs in the abdomen at an operating temperature of 37°C and so, when it gets cold, it diverts the blood from the arms and legs to the middle of the body. Therefore, women’s pyjamas should cover their arms and legs while men find it is often enough to wear a sleeveless top with shorts.

It doesn’t always need to be 20°C

But basically, it is better to wear warm socks and put another blanket on the bed than to heat the bedroom too much. According to the Ministry of the Environment, 17°C is enough for bedrooms.

Warm socks are better than turning up the heating

The kitchen doesn’t need to be warmer than 18°C. In the living room, on the other hand, it should be cosy warm, so at least 20°C.”Every degree increase in the room temperature pushes up the heating bill,” the Ministry warns. In offices where people are sitting at their desks the whole day and not moving much, the temperature may, however, be 21 to 22°C.

Cinnamon smells fragrant and warms

But what can be done when external heating is not enough? Slush on the roads, bad mood? Then it’s time to turn up the body’s own heating system. And it is located in the abdomen. To be precise: when food is digested, heat is produced because the body expends energy to process the nutrients in food. The medical term is postprandial thermogenesis. A person can accelerate this process, for example by using spices from aniseed to cinnamon. We know that cloves and cardamom, vanilla and caraway, ginger and chilli influence thermogenic processes by activating certain hormones and acting on the blood circulation. So it’s no wonder that such spices are often used in our food during the colder weather.

Fine fibres

The clothing industry also keeps us warm. It is increasingly developing light, practical, functional fibres that support the heat balance of the body. Whereas people used to have to wrap themselves up in heavy furs, today they slip into polyester and polypropylene. Fleece jumpers, originally designed for the active outdoor type, now also keep couch potatoes warm.

Alpaca warms up to five times more than classic sheep’s wool

People who prefer natural fibres wear down coats, wool and silk. And itchy, sack-shaped woollen jumpers are long since a thing of the past. Fine materials such as merino and alpaca can be made into elegant knitted dresses. Alpaca warms up to five times more than classic sheep’s wool although it is much lighter and softer. Its fibres contain microscopically small air pockets and therefore insulate extremely well.

The right fibre for every temperature


x00_waerme_icon_seideSilk is the first choice for all those who sweat too much - and freeze too much. No other fibre is as temperature-regulating as it is. The sheen of silk will also never be achieved by man-made fibres.


x00_waerme_icon_pelzFrom the elegant mink to royal ermine and tough nutria – fur has been keeping people warm for thousands of years. The extremely concerning animal welfare aspects, on the other hand, speak against its use. Fur is also heavy and expensive compared with the modern high-tech jacket.


x00_waerme_icons_daunenPeople who like to wear borrowed plumes choose a classic down coat - a literally feather-light alternative to heavy wool and fur.


x00_waerme_icons_baumwolleCotton is a cool material. It is therefore suitable for summer clothing.


x00_waerme_icons_fleeceFleece is a velour material made from polyester. The material was first marketed in 1979 and is above all suitable for outdoor sports because of its good thermal properties. It does not feel itchy on the skin like wool and is also lighter.


x00_waerme_icons_leinenPeople who still sweat even in winter wear linen trousers and shirts. This fibre hardly warms at all. It is also hard-wearing.


x00_waerme_icon_wolleWool warms even when it has become damp. People who do not like the itchy feel of sheep's wool can wear fine merino or angora wool. The wool of the camel-like alpaca is particularly light.

Anybody who activates their internal thermal power plant in this way may not have to turn up the heating system quite so high any more. The subject of climate change: in western industrialised nations, the debate about global warming is closely linked with the subject of energy consumption. The use of renewable energies is to help at least reduce global warming.  However, experts’ opinions are divided. In 2009, the British politician Nigel Lawson established the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which questions the importance of human influence on climate change. The GWPF appeals for more reasoning and less alarmism.  While scientists argue, the normal consumer has to fall back on poetry: the poet Ernst Ferstl’s words about human warmth being the most effective source of energy.