The concept of the ‘coffice’ has been with us for some time and on the face of it sounds great — pack up your laptop, grab your wallet, and swap the office for nearest café. But what does science say? Will a steady flow of tea and coffee lubricate your brain, or will it just make you need the loo more often?
A 2010 review of studies carried out by a researcher from the University of Strasbourg found that the answer seems to be ‘it depends’. Looking at a number of experiments, the review came to the conclusion that caffeine improves reaction times, makes us more alert and is a mood enhancer. These effects combined might explain why studies found it to improve ‘passive’ learning — that is, our ability to absorb information unintentionally. Drinking caffeine seems to make us generally a bit sharper, and, interestingly, the impact is most noticeable with older people. Studies also suggest that caffeine does help to counteract reduced cognitive performance due to fatigue — if you’re tired, coffee will probably help.
However, when it comes to ‘intentional learning’ — where we sit down and consciously attempt to memorise or understand something — consuming caffeine made little difference in tests. And while it did seem to improve performance on simple or moderately difficult tasks which required short-term memory, it appeared to actually reduce performance in complex tasks.
In other words, tea and coffee will perk you up and may help you get through the donkey work, but if you have to really knuckle down and concentrate, it might be better to opt instead for a simple glass of water — one common cause of lethargy and the ‘fuzzy-headedness’ that makes it difficult to focus is actually dehydration.
Still, studies don’t say anything about not eating cake.