If you’re getting ready to engage in a group project that requires alert and positive team members, it might be a good idea to give everyone a cup of coffee beforehand.
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology finds that when team members drink a cup of coffee before performing a task together, they tend to give more positive reviews for their group’s performance — and their own contribution.
The research also shows that while coffee drinkers tend to be more talkative in a group setting, they stay more on-topic than those who drink decaf.
“We found that increased alertness was what led to the positive results for team performance,” said Amit Singh, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “Not surprisingly, people who drank caffeinated coffee tended to be more alert.”
Singh conducted the study with Drs. Vasu Unnava and H. Rao Unnava, both formerly at Ohio State and now with the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis. While several studies have examined how caffeine influences individual performance, this is the first to investigate its impact on teams.
The first experiment involved 72 undergraduate students who were self-reported coffee drinkers. They were instructed not to drink coffee before the study.
Half of the participants were told this was a coffee-tasting task and then split into groups of five. After drinking a cup of coffee and rating its flavor, the participants were given 30 minutes of filler tasks to allow the caffeine to kick in. The other half of the participants did the coffee tasting at the end of the experiment.
Each group then reviewed and discussed a controversial topic: the Occupy movement, a liberal movement that highlights social and economic inequality. After a 15-minute discussion, group members rated themselves and the other group members.
The findings reveal that participants who drank the coffee before the group task rated themselves and their fellow team members more positively than those who drank coffee after the discussion, Singh said.
In a second experiment, 61 students drank coffee at the beginning of the study, but half were given decaf. Those who drank caffeinated coffee rated themselves and their fellow group members more positively than those who drank decaf.
The researchers believe the key to these findings is a higher level of alertness among the regular coffee drinkers. All participants rated how alert they felt at the end of the study, and those who drank the caffeinated coffee rated themselves as more alert than those who did not.
In addition, those who rated themselves as more alert, whether they drank caffeinated coffee or not, also tended to give higher marks to themselves and their fellow group members.
The researchers suggest that any intervention which increases alertness (such as exercise) may also lead to similar results.
“We suspect that when people are more alert they see themselves and the other group members contributing more, and that gives them a more positive attitude,” Singh said.
But the caffeine does more than just increase good feelings. After conducting an analysis of the group discussion in the second study, the researchers found that people tended to talk more after drinking caffeine, but they also tended to stay more on topic.
“They’re talking about more relevant things after drinking caffeinated coffee,” he said.
One might think that if people are talking more about a controversial topic like the Occupy movement, that it could cause friction in the group. But that’s not what the study suggests.
Participants who drank regular coffee were more likely than those who drank decaf to say they would be willing to work with their group again.
“Even though they are talking more, agreeing and disagreeing, they still want to work with them again,” Singh said. “Coffee didn’t seem to make group discussions too uncomfortable and disagreeable.”
Source: Ohio State University
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