Behavioral Thermoregulation Is Governed by Thermal Sensation and Comfort

Sensory information about body temperatures is an essential part of both behavioral and physiological thermoregulation. The distinguishing feature of behavioral thermoregulation is the involvement of consciously directed efforts to regulate body temperature. Thermal discomfort provides the necessary motivation for thermoregulatory behavior, and behavioral thermoregulation acts to reduce both the discomfort and the physiological strain imposed by a stressful thermal environment. For this reason, the zone of thermoneutrality is characterized by both thermal comfort and the absence of shivering and sweating.

Warmth and cold on the skin are felt as either comfortable or uncomfortable, depending on whether they decrease or increase the physiological strain—a shower temperature that feels pleasant after strenuous exercise may be uncomfortably chilly on a cold winter morning. The processing of thermal information in behavioral thermoregulation is not as well understood as it is in physiological thermoregulation. However, perceptions of thermal sensation and comfort respond much more quickly than core temperature or physiological thermoregulatory responses to changes in environmental temperature and, thus, appear to anticipate changes in the body's thermal state. Such an anticipatory feature would be advantageous, since it would reduce the need for frequent small behavioral adjustments.

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