Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Caffeine and Collaboration

The results of recent study presented some intriguing information about the use of caffeine and the ability to collaborate effectively.  According to Lindsay St. Clare and her research team in the UK, caffeine negatively impacts the ability of men to collaborate under stress.  The study  "Interactive Effects of Caffeine Consumption and Stressful Circumstances on Components of Stress" was published in the  Journal of Applied Social Psychology In December.  The study results indicate that when it comes to collaborating on stresssful tasks, caffeine impairs men's performance, but boosts women's.  The research team say that their laboratory study raises the question of whether men "fight or flee" while women "lend and befriend" under stress, and whether caffeine may intensify these behaviors.  It also leads to the question as to whether providing coffee at business meetings may actually sabotage collaboration.

For more information on this study, read the abstract and overview below: 

Overview of the Study: 
The study involved 64 male and female participants all of whom were coffee drinkers at the University of Bristol which is located in the UK.  The average age of the particpants was 22. Participants were required to complete various construction puzzles, negotiation and collaborative memory tasks in same-sex pairs. They did this after drinking decaffeinated coffee, which either had or had not been intentionally altered with caffeine (the equivalent of about three cups' worth of coffee). Stress was elevated for some of the pairs by advising that they would be required to give a presentation to a group, and that their participation fee would be performance dependent.

The results were very interesting.  The men's memory performance under stressful conditions with caffeine was described by the researchers as 'greatly impaired' whereas caffeine didn't affect women in the same situation. For the construction puzzles, caffeine under high stress conditions led men to take an average of twenty seconds longer (compared with no caffeine) whereas it led women to solve the puzzles 100 seconds faster.

Further research is clearly need to replicate the findings and explore the possible underlying mechanisms. Such work is urgent, the researchers concluded, 'because many ... meetings, including those at which military and other decisions of great importance are made may be dominated by men and coffee or other caffenated drinks may be provided.  Their research suggests that men's effectiveness is particularly likely to be compromised. Because caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world, it follows that the global implications could be potentially staggering.'

Source:   St. Claire, L., Hayward, R., and Rogers, P. (2010). Interactive Effects of Caffeine Consumption and Stressful Circumstances on Components of Stress: Caffeine Makes Men Less, But Women More Effective as Partners Under Stress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40 (12), 3106-3129

Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights on this topic!!!

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