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Can Coffee Cure the Curse of Group Work?

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Students and office workers alike know all too well that group work, while impossible to avoid, can be as taxing, prickly, and fruitless as climbing a cactus. Thankfully, science has once again proved that coffee can ease almost any ailment known to man, including group projects.

The University of California, Davis campus has its very own Coffee Center, a research facility devoted solely to learning more about our favorite bean brew. One recent experiment from the Center has revealed the positive effects of coffee in group settings. The study, titled “Coffee with Co-workers: Role of Caffeine on Evaluations of the Self and Others in Group Settings” and published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, is the first to explore the effects of coffee on group work, as opposed to individual productivity. In the study, UCD did two sets of experiments to explore coffee’s role in group functions. First, under the guise of a taste test, they had groups of students drink a 12oz coffee 30 minutes prior to discussing an article about the Occupy movement, while other groups consumed coffee after the discussion. After both tasting and discussion, individuals were asked to evaluate their own contributions to the article discussion as well as the group as whole. Individuals in the groups that were given coffee before the discussion rated both their own performance and the group’s discussion more positively than those who consumed coffee after the discussion.

Curious to test whether it was caffeine that was responsible for the higher ratings or just the act of consuming coffee together, for the second experiment, the moderators had all groups consume coffee before discussion, but some were given decaffeinated coffee. This experiment revealed that the groups who consumed caffeinated coffee rated the group discussion and individual performance higher, and were more willing to work with the group again than those who had decaf coffee.

According to the study in the Journal, the findings are consistent with other studies that have researched caffeine; caffeine appears to “increase one’s alertness, increase systematic processing and make one feel more sociable." The three main findings of this particular study are that caffeine consumption lead to more positive reviews of both individuals and the group, that it increased relevant discussion, and that caffeine lead to more alertness, which improves group performance.

Thank you, UC Davis, for giving us hope that good coffee can make everything, even group work, just a little bit smoother. 

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