Mind & Body

You Don't Lose the Most Heat Through Your Head

Here's a seasonal myth that belongs with "cold weather gives you colds" (it doesn't) and "you can't sunburn on a cloudy day" (you certainly can): You don't lose most of your body heat through your head.

Why People Believe It

This myth is thought to have stemmed from a test the U.S. military performed in which subjects wore Arctic survival suits in winter weather. Because their heads were the only parts of their bodies left uncovered, that's where they lost most of their heat. Sounds like a good way to conclude that you lose most of your heat through your head, but not so fast: If the subjects had worn hats and left an equivalent area of their arms or legs uncovered, the same amount of heat would have escaped through those areas.

The reason it feels like more heat escapes through some places than others is that your head, face, neck, and chest are up to five times more sensitive to temperature changes than the rest of your body. By bundling up with a hat and scarf in winter or taking off a ball cap in summer, you feel like you're doing more to change your body temperature than if you were to change other clothing. In reality, roughly 10 percent of your body heat escapes through your head, which just so happens to be the percentage of your body's surface area that your head makes up. Whether you wear a hat or not, the other clothes you wear have just as much of a role in how hot or cold you feel.

Related Video: 10 Old Wives' Tales Supported by Science

What This Means for You

Of course, this isn't to say you should venture out on a below-zero winter day in Chicago (it's rough here at Curiosity HQ!) with your head bare. The 10 percent of your body heat that escapes through your head isn't nothing, and every bit of bundling helps keep you warmer than you would be otherwise. What we are saying, however, is that you can't just put a hat on and expect to stay warm in a T-shirt.

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For answers to stranger questions, check out "What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" by Randall Munroe, author of the super-popular webcomic xkcd. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer August 9, 2016

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