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Medical Perception of Temperature

  1. Jan 13, 2013 #1
    I'm writing a video game in which the player's body temperature is a mechanic.

    From what I understand, human perception of temperature is highly dependent on the change in temperature as well as the absolute temperature. However, I can't find numbers, and that's what I need.

    Specifically, I need temperature and Δtemperature values at which a person would feel "warm", "uncomfortably hot", "extremely hot" and "lethally hot", and similar values for cold. Does anyone have relevant data?

    I understand, of course, that numbers tend to vary greatly when dealing with living beings- I'm asking for ballpark averages. Of course, if I've completely misunderstood how this works (always a likelyhood), feel free to correct me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2013 #2
    Perhaps you're not searching for the right terms? Have you tried researching 'thermal comfort'?

    How comfortable a person feels is a function of not just the air temperature, but also the relative humidity and wind speed since these help determine the efficiency of sweating as a means of cooling the body. However, perhaps you don't want to over-complicate your game!
  4. Jan 13, 2013 #3
    But it's also dependent on what you're comparing it to. A person leaving below zero F. temp to go into 50 F. might feel it as nice and warm, while a person going from 90 F to 50 F would feel it as shiveringly cold.
  5. Jan 13, 2013 #4
    Yes of course and I know all too well from personal experience! Surely even that experience will depend on the individual however? The OP is asking about 'feelings' which are difficult to generalise.

    @OP Does it matter, if it is a video game, can't you just make up some numbers that sound reasonable? :P
  6. Jan 13, 2013 #5
    Of course, but I'm trying to keep everything as "in-scale" as possible. The idea is to provide a reasonable emulation of the real-world rules so that the same basic strategies work even if the exact numbers are different.

    The simulation doesn't know about humidity or wind speed- though it does know about heat transfer co-efficients to some degree, since the player can put on warm clothes or a soaked turban (I assume that's how those things work, I'll have to go and look it up) to alter the rate at which he loses or gains heat.

    If it comes right down to it, I can just say "if you get this cold, you feel cold and the words 'you feel cold' pop up on the screen", but I'd like to have it be realistic if only for its own sake.

    There's also the fact that having the player know right away when there's a temperature threat isn't as fun as mentioning "oh, by the way, you're freezing/heat-stroking to death" when it's very nearly too late to do anything about it. :P
  7. Jan 13, 2013 #6


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    Humans predominately sense change in temperature. If you live in a cold climate you may notice, getting in the car in the morning, that the steering wheel is very cold. The steering wheel is (generally) the same temperature as the air, so why does the steering wheel feel colder than the air?

    Because heat conduction is much faster than heat convection, and humans sense the rate at which heat is leaving (or entering) their bodies. So the steering wheel is sapping you down to 0 degrees centigrade much faster than the air is lulling you towards 0 degrees centigrade so you say it feels "colder" (but it's really just making you cold faster).

    Note also, that there are separate receptors for cold detection than for heat detection. Here is the scholarpedia (the peer reviewed wiki) on it with specific numbers for temperatures, adaption rates, thermal thresholds, thermoreceptor density on the skin, and conduction velocities:


    It's also well referenced if you want to go to the original experiments.
  8. Jan 13, 2013 #7
    Aha, that's absolutely perfect! Thanks a lot.

    Though that's just the skin, I think I can get away with fudging numbers when it comes to the instruments measuring the internal temperature- just make them a few degrees away from the 'danger zone' where noticable negative effects start to occur.
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