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WORKPLACE / NOV. 16, 2014
version 5, draft 5

How Coffee Affects The Sexes In Different Ways

It’s commonplace for many meetings to be adorned with a constant flow of tea and coffee to keep the participants perky and alert.  Studies suggest that it may not be anywhere near as beneficial as we may think.

New research reveals that its presence, and consumption, has significantly different impacts on us, depending upon whether we are male or female.

The study, conducted by Lindsay St. Claire from Bristol University, set out to analyse the impact of coffee consumption on meeting productivity.  What it perhaps didn’t expect was to discover that caffeine had such a different impact depending on the sex of the drinker.

How men and women perform after a coffee

For two men collaborating or negotiating under stressful circumstances, downing that coffee was far from beneficial, as it significantly undermined both their confidence and their performance levels. For women on the other hand, it was great, as it improved their performance and confidence under the same stressful conditions.

All of which is a pretty big deal, considering the amount of caffeine consumed in the typical office.  But why is it so?

Dr St.Claire suggests the divergence in performance could be down to differences in how the genders react to stressful situations.  For instance, men tend to adopt fight or flight tendencies when under stress.  Women on the other hand tend to be more collaborative and look for mutual protection instead.

The impact of caffeine on our memories

What’s more, the caffeine was not just limited to performance when under duress.  It was also found to have an impact upon our memories, but, as with the previous experiment, not in equal amounts.

When tested for memory, men suffered significantly when under the influence of caffeine, whereas women were not really affected by it at all.  When participants were tested on a construction puzzle, the results were even starker, with caffeine causing the men to take 20 seconds longer to complete the puzzle, whereas it caused the ladies to finish it 100 seconds faster!

In a world where we try and take out every bit of performance possible, these results are quite remarkable.  It seems that caffeine is one of those things that is largely flying under the radar in terms of its impact upon our performance.

Earlier this month I wrote about the role it plays in our creative thinking after researchers discovered that the laser focus that caffeine can provide us is terrible when it comes to creativity, as it stops the brain from doing the kind of random wandering that is so often key to creativity.

It should be said that that this particular study made no distinction between the impact on men or women, so it isn’t clear whether both sexes were affected by it equally, but given the prominent role caffeine plays in most workplaces, findings such as this deserve a good deal of attention.

It seems almost a bizarre question to ask, but does your workplace have any rules on caffeine consumption?  Has it monitored performance before and after employees get their fix?

Let me know in the comments below.


Image source: Essential Excellence

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