Chilly air conditioning in offices is damaging women's performance at work, a study has found.

Most climate control systems in modern offices are based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man, which runs up to 30 per cent faster than a woman's.

Current employment rules in the UK set by the Health and Safety Executive allow for temperatures as low as 16C even though the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends 20C.

Now, research by the University of Southern California (USC) shows that women perform considerably worse than men when the temperature falls to 16C, and do not catch up in verbal tasks until conditions hit around 22C. In tests, they average 19 points at the lowest temperature and 23 at the highest.

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In maths skills, women only become comparable with men when temperatures reach 32C.

The opposite is true for men, whose performance worsens as the temperature rises.

"It's been documented that women like warmer indoor temperatures than men, but the idea until now has been that it's a matter of personal preference," said USC's Dr Tom Chang.

"This study is saying even if you care only about money, you may want to crank up the temperature in your office buildings."

Previous research by Maastricht University Medical Centre found that the optimum office temperature for women was 24.5C. Men, in contrast, were happiest at 21.5C.

Current air conditioning standards are derived from research conducted in the 1960s which was based on the resting metabolic rate of one 70kg, 40-year-old man.

The new research was carried out on 543 students in Berlin who were asked to complete tests in different office conditions.

"One of the most surprising things we learned is this isn't about the extremes of temperature," added Dr Chang. "It's not like we're getting to freezing or boiling hot."

The research was published in the journal Plos One.

- Telegraph Group Ltd