For many people, a cup of joe is the magic potion that turns them into functioning human beings.
Now, new research suggests that coffee’s powers may extend into work settings—with greater participation and performance in group discussions. Two new studies on java’s effects were done by researchers at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and published online in Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Recent research: In the first study, 72 undergraduate students were instructed not to drink coffee before they arrived for the experiment, in which they were asked to talk among themselves about the Occupy movement, a controversial demonstration that focused on socioeconomic inequalities.
Half of the participants were given caffeinated coffee 30 minutes before the discussion (they were told they were engaged in a taste test), and the other half did their “taste testing” after the discussion. The conversation lasted for 15 minutes, after which the study subjects were asked to evaluate themselves and the others in the group based on such factors as levels of participation and ability to stay on topic.
The second, related study included 61 other students who were all given coffee before the conversation started, but only half were given caffeinated coffee (the others unknowingly drank decaf).
Study results: The study participants who were given coffee before the discussion gave themselves—and the other participants—higher marks than did those who didn’t get their java until after the chat. In the second study, the caffeinated participants spoke up more during the discussion…stayed more focused…and handed out more positive reviews than those who drank the decaf.
The researchers found that increased alertness was what led to the positive results for team performance—not surprisingly, people who drank caffeinated coffee tended to be more alert.
Bonus: The collegial attitude fuelled by caffeine may be even more important when the topic at hand is potentially combustible. A controversial subject such as the Occupy movement might be expected to sow disharmony among the group members, but the study participants who got their dose of caffeine were more likely than those who drank decaf to happily work with their group again. In fact, coffee didn’t seem to make group discussions either uncomfortable or disagreeable.
Implication: This research, believed to be the first to focus on coffee drinking’s effect on group dynamics, suggests that any activity that increases alertness (such as exercise) may have a similar beneficial influence on group dynamics. Based on the positive findings on coffee drinking, the researchers intend to pursue further studies on this topic.
Bottom line: The next time you’re planning a group meeting, consider brewing up a big pot of coffee for all the participants to enjoy beforehand. You may be serving up a more focused and productive meeting!