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However, it is unlikely the four out of five college students that consume caffeine on a daily basis are doing so solely for the above-mentioned reasons (Schardt and Schmidt 1996). It is more likely they are `addicted` to the energy jolt it provides them, whether it be after a late night of partying, to wake them for an early class, or to help them fight exhaustion in order to stay up and study. Caffeine is viewed by some as a drug, and it is proven that more people in the U.S are addicted to it than any other drug, including alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana (Gormley 1996). And like illicit drugs, it produces withdrawal and in large doses can be fatal (www.spub.ksu.edu 1996). According to Troyer and Markle (1984), psychiatrists have even labeled behavioral patterns attributed to caffeine consumption with the diagnostic term `caffeinism`. These behavioral patterns can include restlessness, nervousness, and insomnia, which can last four to six hours after consuming only one cup (8 oz.) of coffee (Troyer and Markle 1984). It should also be noted that although new caffeinated beverages are readily available to the public, coffee still accounts for 75% of all caffeine consumed in the country (Schardt and Schmidt 1996).
As the debate over caffeine and its effects on one`s health continues, many college students continue to rely on caffeine-packed sodas and coffee drinks to keep them `up` for late night cram sessions. Caffeine is most definitely the procrastinator`s best friend. Although cramming may simply mean the student`s study habits need improving, caffeine does not appear to help the studying process in the long run. According to Mooney (2000), caffeine has been seen to trigger panic attacks in past laboratory research. So why would it not increase a student`s anxiety level while he or she nervously studied for an important examination?
As cited by Troyer and Markle (1984), Goodman and Gilman (1975) stated that caffeine is a powerful stimulant to the central nervous system and its main purpose, as desired by students, athletes, and cross-country drivers alike, is to produce clear, rapid thought, and above all, keep fatigue at bay. Yet according to Braun (1996), although caffeine is proven to increase the production of adrenalin and may speed up reaction time (a point that is counter-argued later) in simple arithmetic skills, it has been proven to worsen performance in longer, more complicated word problems. In relation to study habits, it seems that most college students are above the simple arithmetic level. Yet many continue to drink two cups of coffee or more daily, assuming `heightened` energy levels will lead to `heightened` academic performance (Gormley 1996). They believe these caffeinated beverages are `think drinks` and will `turn on` their brains as it increases their arousal and alertness and delays the onset of sleep (Braun 1996). Although research on caffeine affecting the study habits of memory and recall are few, Braun notes that caffeine only improves the mental ability of speed and not power. In other words, caffeine only degrades performance in logical reasoning, which is what most college level material entails. Nevertheless, a definite answer to whether caffeine helps or hinders academic performance has yet to be discovered.
The effect of caffeine on college-aged individuals` studying habits is not thoroughly researched. Yet one study performed by Bernstein, Carrol, Crosby, Perwein, Go, and Benowitz investigated the effects of caffeine on academic performance in children aged eight to twelve (1994). One group of the children received up to 250mg of caffeine, equaling as much contained in 5-6 cans of soda. These children were asked to complete several learning and anxiety measures. Although these children seemed to answer more questions consistently than the control group, they also reported more negatively in respect to the anxiety tests. Bernstein et. Al (1994) also cited research performed by Rapoport et. Al (1981) on the effects of caffeine on male college-aged individuals. After consuming caffeine, these males exhibited a decrease in reaction time (a point that disagrees with Braun`s research) and an increase in nervous, jittery feelings. Such feelings could not help a student when studying for his or her academics.
From reviewing the past research, it is evident that scientific studies still contain no real evidence to condemn or condone caffeine as a helpful studying tool. Many controversies, as previously mentioned, still exist. According to Dews (1984), students who are even regular non-consumers of caffeine may consume a caffeinated beverage prior to studying for an exam in the hopes of increasing their performance and delaying fatigue. Yet caffeine accompanied with other individual disturbances such as outside noise may lead to unhealthy study habits (Dews 1984). This leads us to the question of what makes for good, healthy study habits. Many students and professors probably have different answers, yet all would most likely agree that a successful college student needs to have such skills (Mathiasen 1984). As reported by the University of Virginia (www.virginia.edu 1999), healthy study habits include time management, avoiding procrastination, and maintaining good health habits such as adequate sleep and a well-balanced diet. This website mentions that a caffeine overload will only lead to further exam anxiety. Another website containing the top ten survival tips for college students lists number ten as avoiding food or drink containing caffeine just before or after studying (www.mtsu.edu 1998). This study had the goal of supporting such a statement.
This study used the aforementioned controversies and disagreements among the research to focus on caffeine consumption and its effects on college students` study habits. As this study was correlational in design, the first variable was the amount of caffeine consumed and the second variable was study habits. If a student consumed caffeine while studying, he or she would tend to have unhealthy study habits. More accurately, the more caffeine a student consumed during a studying session, the less studying he or she would complete, and the less information he or she would retain. The rationale for the above-mentioned hypothesis was that caffeine intake would cause an increase in anxiety as well as a decrease in one`s attention span which would limit the effectiveness of the studying, i.e. the participant would study for less time and retain less information. These concepts were tested in the present study through the participants` answers on the questionnaire and the researchers` classifications of each participant as having healthy or unhealthy study habits.
Seventy-eight college students were recruited to participate using the convenience sampling method. Forty percent were male and sixty percent were female. All participants were recruited from a Loyola University Introduction to Psychology course. Most students participated as a requirement for the course whereas some students participated to receive extra credit points. The Loyola psychology students, approached during class time at the professor`s approval, received a brief summary of the research project and were asked to participate.
To conduct the study, the participants were asked to fill out a consent form and to complete a questionnaire. Participants used a sharpened pencil to complete the tasks.
Two copies of the consent form were distributed: one for the researchers` records and one for the participants` records. The consent form stated the objective of the study, the requirements of the study, the participant`s role in the study, and it also guaranteed the confidentiality of the participant.
The questionnaire used gathered relevant information about the variables in the research. The questionnaire contained 12 questions thought of by the research team.
The participants were asked general information about their age, gender, major, and year. They were also asked when they usually start preparing for an examination and how long they study per studying session. Their current GPA was also asked. With regards to caffeine, they were asked if they consume any caffeinated beverages while studying and if so, how much they consume per session. They were also asked how much studying they would get done as well as how much information they would retain without consuming caffeine. The final question asked the participants about the amount of anxiety they tend to feel during a study session. (see Appendix 1).
Design and Procedure
This study was correlational in design and looked at the relationship between two variables that were not manipulated by the researchers. The first variable was whether the students consumed caffeine during a studying session, and how much caffeine they consumed per session.
The second variable was the studying habits of the student and whether they would be classified as healthy or unhealthy in reference to procrastination and amount of studying, as well as how much information was retained per session and the amount of anxiety they feel per study session. The research team classified the participant`s study habits as healthy or unhealthy depending on the participant`s answers to the questions on the survey.
The controls in this study were that all participants were given the questionnaire in a classroom setting. Also, on the questionnaire the research team decided that one can of soda was equivalent to one cup of coffee.
Students were administered the questionnaire in their college classrooms within the fifty minute time period. During the time allowed, the participants read and signed the consent form and completed the questionnaire.
The participants were greeted as they sat in their classroom and were given a sharpened pencil and the consent forms and questionnaire. Participants were asked to read the consent form, sign it, and not go any further. The consent forms were collected. Next the participants were asked to complete the questionnaire in its entirety without putting his or her name on it. They were given fifteen minutes to complete the questionnaire.
After fifteen minutes, the questionnaires were collected and the participants were debriefed. The participants were told the nature of the research project, its objective, hypothesis, and variables. Any questions from the participants were answered. Counseling was reminded to the participants as being offered at Loyola if they felt they had a problem with caffeine or with their studying habits. The participants were then thanked and allowed to leave.
This study consisted of 78 participants. 58 were female and 20 were male. The mean age was 18.73 (SD=.86).
In relation to the consumption of caffeine by the participants, 55% reported consuming caffeine while studying. The mean amount of caffeine consumed was .90 (SD=.99), which is less than 1 cup of coffee or 1 can of soda.
In relation to the study habits of the participants, the research team aimed to classify the habits as healthy or unhealthy based on several variables. The variables examined were how long the participants studied per session, when they began to study in relation to the test, the amount of information they believed they had retained after studying, and how much anxiety they felt while studying. The mean time the participants began to study was 2.05 (SD=.72), indicating that on average, the participants would begin studying one week before the test. The mean amount of time per study session was 2.67 (SD=.85), indicating that on average the participants would study between 1 and 4 hours per study session. The mean amount of information retained by the participants was 2.86 (SD=.83), indicating that the participants believed they retained the same amount of information regardless of caffeine consumption. The mean amount of anxiety was 2.88 (SD=1.05) indicating that on average the participants would feel only a `somewhat` level of anxiety while studying for a test or exam.
To determine if a relationship was present between caffeine consumption and study habits, a Pearson correlation was used. For an alpha level of .05, the main effect of drinking caffeine on exam preparation was not significant, (r= .0648, df= 78, p=.573). This resulted in failing to reject the null hypothesis.
The lack of relationship between these two variables may be due to several aspects. There were very few participants who actually responded that they did in fact consume caffeinated beverages while studying. Also the participants who did consume caffeine only recorded drinking one cup of coffee or one can of soda. The research team had hoped of finding participants who consumed more than one cup or one can as to better support their hypothesis.
The mean amount of caffeine consumed by the participants was less than one cup of coffee which did not appear to have any effect on one`s study habits. This is contrary to the findings of Troyer and Markle (1984) who cited that nervousness and jitteriness could last 4-6 hours after drinking only one cup of coffee. The present research had predicted that this increased anxiety would result in study habits that could be labeled as `unhealthy`. However, it also should be mentioned that some of the past research on this topic has suggested that caffeine tends to increase an individual`s reaction time (Braun 1996). The present research team has concluded that this side effect could help a student study quickly and perhaps more efficiently. Braun`s research also suggested that caffeine increased the mental ability of speed and not power. For example, an individual can work efficiently on simple arithmetic after consuming caffeine, yet may have difficulties focusing his/her attention on longer, more complex word problems. The present research aimed to associate most college-level studying material in the `power` category. In other words, it was predicted that most college students would need the ability to focus on complicated language and be able to comprehend and recall the information. However, maybe the ability of speed was sufficient for most participants. Perhaps caffeine kept them alert and responsive to the information they were studying.
The present research had the goal of supporting past research that claimed caffeine had negative effects on a person`s mental ability and anxiety levels, which would result in unhealthy study habits for college students that did consume caffeine to stay alert while studying. Although the correlation between the two variables of caffeine consumption and study habits proved to be not significant in the research, a new groundwork was laid for future research on this topic. Perhaps a new sample of the population needs to be focused on, one that has been evident in the past for consuming high amounts of caffeine. The present research was restricted to Loyola University`s learning community and psychology majors. A nation-wide college campus survey could be administered to discover the campuses that rate high on caffeine consumption by their students. Also, a more clear and concise survey could be developed as the present research used a questionnaire that may have confused some participants. Future research can also be done on the use of caffeine pills by college students as they are increasing in popularity.
Bernstein, G., Carroll, M., Crosby, R., Perwein, A., Go, F., & Berowitz, N. (1994). Caffeine effects on learning, performance, and anxiety in normal school-age children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 407-416.
Braun, S. (1996). Buzz. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dews, P. B. (Ed.). (1984). Caffeine. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Gormley, J. (1996). Non-organic coffee provides false hope if you want an energy boost. Better Nutrition, 58, 18.
Marlke, G., & Troyer, R. (1984). Coffee Drinking: An emerging social problem?
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Methiasen, R. (1984). Predicting college academic achievement: a research review.
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Mooney, L. (2000). Should you decaf your life? Prevention, 52, 131.
Surviving Exams. (1999). Retrieved October 17, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.virginia.edu
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