Sensations evoked by thermal stimulation (temperature-related sensations) can be divided into two categories, "temperature sensation" and "thermal comfort." Although several studies have investigated regional differences in temperature sensation, less is known about the sensitivity differences in thermal comfort for the various body regions. In the present study, we examined regional differences in temperature-related sensations with special attention to thermal comfort. Healthy male subjects sitting in an environment of mild heat or cold were locally cooled or warmed with water-perfused stimulators. Areas stimulated were the face, chest, abdomen, and thigh. Temperature sensation and thermal comfort of the stimulated areas were reported by the subjects, as was whole body thermal comfort. During mild heat exposure, facial cooling was most comfortable and facial warming was most uncomfortable. On the other hand, during mild cold exposure, neither warming nor cooling of the face had a major effect. The chest and abdomen had characteristics opposite to those of the face. Local warming of the chest and abdomen did produce a strong comfort sensation during whole body cold exposure. The thermal comfort seen in this study suggests that if given the chance, humans would preferentially cool the head in the heat, and they would maintain the warmth of the trunk areas in the cold. The qualitative differences seen in thermal comfort for the various areas cannot be explained solely by the density or properties of the peripheral thermal receptors and thus must reflect processing mechanisms in the central nervous system.
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