Mind & Body

Coffee Could Help You Tolerate the People You Work With

Coffee drinkers know how crucial the brown stuff is for workplace productivity. If you've ever cold-shouldered a colleague for daring to bother you before your morning coffee, the following will come as no surprise. According to research, drinking coffee can help you stop being such a crabby pants in group settings.

Not Before My Coffee

If you regularly drink a cup of joe or five at the office, don't stop now. An April 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that when coffee drinkers downed a cup of java before a group discussion, they stayed focused and felt better about themselves and the other people in the conversation. That lines up with how most workers feel. According to a 2015 survey, 71 percent of city-dwelling people in the US agree that coffee is integral to a successful meeting.

"We see coffee being served in many meetings but found very little research on how coffee might affect group dynamics. Most research is about how coffee affects an individual. So, we decided to study the effects (if any), of consumption of coffee on performance of individuals in a group, and the collective output of the group," study author Vasu Unnava of the University of California, Davis tells PsyPost.

For the small study, researchers had 134 college students break out into groups to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement for 15 minutes. The researchers told some of the coffee-drinking participants to hold off on the brew for a few hours prior to the discussion, then gave them caffeinated coffee just before the meeting. These people, all geared up on coffee, were better at focusing on the topic at hand and viewed the people they were chatting with more favorably.

"The study was conducted using people who consume coffee regularly," Unnava said. "For these people, it looks like coffee does make them feel more alert, focuses their thinking on the topic or task at hand, and has them participate more in group tasks. So, if you are a coffee drinker, it looks like coffee helps you do better in group tasks."

Just Keep Drinking

Though all you coffee drinkers out there are probably all nodding your heads in unison, the study has a few caveats. "A major caveat is that our coffee drinkers came to the study after staying away from coffee for a few hours," Unnava told PsyPost. "So, we do not know if the coffee they consumed in the study increased their alertness or it is the decreased alertness in those who consumed decaffeinated coffee that caused the effects reported in the study."

"Second, we used a topic that the participants generally agreed on. What the results might be if there is disagreement is an interesting issue to study further. Finally, we used only one type of task — group discussion. How coffee may affect people's performance in other kinds of tasks (e.g., group problem solving, group physical work) is not known." Just to be on the safe side, we'll keep the coffee coming regardless.

Need a top-off? Check out Mark Pendergrast's "Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Joanie Faletto May 15, 2018

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