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Studying for an exam can be one of the most stressful events in a student`s life. For recent high school graduates attending college, coping with the transition from high school to college is very difficult. For continuing students, keeping up their grades until graduation is always the main focus. In both instances, studying for exams has always been a challenge. Some students may \"cram\" in order to pass, while others study in advance. There are students who are always nervous and anxious and others find ways to deal with the burden. How do these students cope with stress? Some will exercise, and others procrastinate.
There have been numerous published tips students can use as a guide for good study habits. Good study habits are defined as, according to the Manhattan College Counseling Center, establishing routine times to study for each class, having a place to study, studying during the daytime rather than night-time, scheduling breaks after every hour of study, making use of study resources on campus, working in groups, studying the hardest subject first, and being good to yourself, which includes avoiding foods and drinks containing caffeine before or after studying. When students find that stress and anxiety are overwhelming, they often seek alternate solutions. One of those solutions includes consuming a stimulant called caffeine.
Caffeine is defined as a stimulant found in coffee, tea, many soft drinks and chocolate (Schardt and Schmidt 1996). Caffeine is a natural ingredient found in plants that are widely distributed throughout the world (Troyer and Markle, 1984). Friedlieb Runge of Germany was the first to discover caffeine in 1820 (Troyer and Markle, 1984). Today, caffeine is the world`s most popular stimulant (Schardt and Schmidt, 1996). It is estimated that Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee a day (Gormley, 1996). It is one of the most extensively ingested psychoactive drugs in the world (Bernstein, Carroll, Crosby, Perwein, Go, and Benowitz, 1994). It is found that four out of five Americans consume caffeine everyday (Schardt and Schmidt, 1996). Gilbert (1984, as cited by Bernstein et al.) found that 82% to 92% of North Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis. Of the population, 50% drink 2 cups a day, 25% drink 5 cups a day, and 25% drink more than 20 cups a day.
There are no doubts that many Americans consume caffeine everyday, but there are health risks involved. Like all other stimulants, caffeine has both positive and negative sides. First, let`s focus on the positive side. Carter (1999) found that caffeine stimulates the brain and makes a person feel awake and energetic. It increases concentration levels, strengthens the heartbeat, improved blood circulation and muscles. It can help the digestion process by increasing the production of acids in the stomach and stimulating the kidneys, which in turn increases urine production. For overweight individuals, drinking a cup of coffee or tea a day before exercising increases metabolism. Caffeine assists in excreting stored fat in the body so the body could use it to burn for energy. Caffeine also reduces risks of gallstones and amount of cholesterol in bile (Mooney, 2000).
Caffeine also has its negative side effects. Too much caffeine can cause over-stimulation to the body and brain. It can cause restlessness, jumpiness, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, irregular heartbeat, twitching of muscles and excess amount of acids in the stomach, which can lead to abdominal pain and nausea (Carter, 1999). Some medical health risks that caffeine could be related to are heart disease, stroke, cancers such as benign breast cancer, and birth defects (i.e. cleft palates and missing toes and fingers). Caffeine has also been linked to infertility, heartburn, and ulcers. Psychological problems include increased levels of adrenalin (the \"fight or flight\" hormone), interference with adenosine, which is a brain chemical that has a calming effect on the body, and for people who suffer from panic disorders, increased levels of the enzyme lactate, which induces panic attacks (Gormley, 1996).
Battig and Wetzl (1993, as cited by Braun) studied learning abilities in laboratory rats. In their study, laboratory rats were divided into two controlled groups. One group was given caffeine while the other groups was given a placebo before learning their way through a maze. The rats that consumed caffeine showed more improvement in later trials than the rats that were given placebos. Braun (1997) suggested that results from laboratory rats could not represent human participants because caffeine intake can only be manipulated to a certain extent. In other words, due to ethical purposes, caffeine intake among human participants can only be controlled to how much their bodies can take. Excess amounts of caffeine given to human participants will result in negative side-effects. For this purpose, caffeine research was limited.
Psychological research during the 1970`s studied the influence of caffeine on human and animal behavior (Troyer and Markle, 1984). In rats, motor performance (i.e. swimming, rate of bar pressing, vasomotor coordination, and sleep) and mental performance (i.e. attention span, arithmetic, and solving crossword puzzles) have been studied. From studies that Braun (1997) reviewed, he found that in humans, caffeine improved mental ability on tasks requiring \"speed\" but had no effect on tasks involving \"power\" such as complex word problems. In another study, impulsive people, defined as those who sacrificed accuracy for speed in different tasks and tended to be more awake in the morning, were given coffee in the morning. Their performance at tasks such as proofreading for grammatical and typographical errors improved. However, when caffeine was consumed in the evening, their performance was worse than when they had no caffeine at all (Guilbert, 1999, as cited by Braun 1996). However, in relations to our research, we focused on caffeine consumption and students study habits in college.
Gilliland and Andress (1981, as cited by Troyer and Markle) found that caffeine consumption among college students was related to lower grades and higher levels of anxiety and depression. In one study by Hire (1978, as cited by Troyer and Markle), anxiety over GPA caused caffeine consumption. Caffeine can also be linked to mental disorders such as schizophrenia (Troyer and Markle, 1984) and used as a possible treatment for hyperactive attention deficit disorder among children (Bernstein et al., 1994).
There have been studies conducted to examine how caffeine affects learning, performance, and anxiety among school-aged children (Bernstein et al., 1994). Twenty-one children were studied in terms of anxiety rating scales, and their saliva samples were analyzed. Their dependent measures were tests of attention, manual dexterity, short-term memory, and processing speed. They found that caffeine improved performance on tests such as attention as well as on motor tasks. The children also reported \"anxiety after caffeine on a visual analogue measure of anxiety\" (Berstein et. al., 1994). Participants reported feeling less \"sluggish\" after consuming caffeine. Due to the limited amount of research in our area, this previous research has supported the fact that caffeine consumption can effect performance in school. Since caffeine can effect people at an early age, this will further support our hypothesis that high levels of caffeine intake will effect school performance.
To furthermore support our study, we need to look at students in college and how caffeine effects their study habits or learning performance in college. Rapoport , Jensvold, Elins et al. (1981, as cited by Bernstein et al.) studied effects of caffeine on normal nineteen year-old males and twenty year-old college-age males. They found that the nineteen year-old males displayed more typical effects of caffeine (i.e. greater motor activity, increased speech rate, decreased reaction time, and a significant improvement in attention with fewer errors of omission on a continuous performance test) than college-age males. There were some similarities among the nineteen year-old males and school aged children in terms of their performance tasks. Caffeine has been shown to help school-aged children and adults in speech, reaction time, and increased motor activities.
Despite the studies presented, the effects of caffeine differ from person to person. Every individual has his own level of tolerance for consuming caffeine (Dews, 1984). Dews (1984) suggested that digestion of caffeine could contribute to individual differences. Braun (1996) concluded that caffeine is helpful for people who are accustomed to it, such as those who are naturally stimulated by it and those whose work does not require a lot of thinking tasks. However, does gender difference account for how much caffeine is consumed among individuals? Everding (EurekAlert!, 1999) cited a study from Washington University concluding that women are more likely to become addicted to caffeine and chocolate.
Regardless of all the information in research studies, there seems to be little information on the relationship between caffeine consumption and college students` study habits. We speculated that students usually consume more caffeine when they are preparing and studying for an exam. As stated earlier, drinking too much caffeine is not a positive study habit; therefore, in our study, we attempted to focus on this area. We hypothesized that students who consumed more caffeine while studying would exhibit negative and unhealthy study habits, especially when studying for complicated word problems or tasks. Since this was a correlational study, no variable were controlled or manipulated. We looked at demographic variables such as age, gender, GPA, class, and major to determine whether they had any affect on students` caffeine consumption and study habits. We wanted to determine whether caffeine consumption leads students to healthy or unhealthy study habits. Unhealthy study habits include procrastination, minimal studying time, increased anxiety, and low levels of information retained by the student. The purpose of this study was to examine students study habits in reference to caffeine consumption, the effects of caffeine consumption on students, and how demographic variables such as age, gender, class, and major affect caffeine consumption when studying for exams.
Seventy-nine Loyola University undergraduates were recruited to participate. Twenty were males and fifty-nine were females, all were recruited through convenience sampling. Students either participated to receive extra credit points or on a volunteer basis. Students were given a brief summary of the research project and were asked to participate during class time. Participants, to the best of our abilities, were treated in accordance with the \"Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct\" (APA, 1992).
Two copies of the informed consents were distributed: one for the participants to retain for their records and one for our records. The consent form distinctly informed the participants of the purpose of the study as well as their legal rights to confidentiality and anonymity and to withdrawal from the study at any time.
The survey was developed by the experimenters (see Appendix A). The survey consisted of twelve questions, which included general demographic questions such as gender, age, major, year (class), GPA average, and whether they worked and full time or part time or not at all. The survey also asked questions such as, if they consumed caffeine, how much caffeine they consumed per study session, and how long they studied per session (i.e. how many hours). The survey also asked if the participants had to study for an exam without consuming caffeine, then how much studying they would get done and how much information would they retain from studying. In addition, the survey asked the participants to rate their levels of anxiety while studying for an exam from extreme anxiety to no anxiety.
The participants were given up to fifteen minutes to complete the survey.
Design and Procedure
The design of this study was a correlational study; therefore, no variables were manipulated nor controlled.
The independent variables were whether the participants consumed caffeine or not, and if so, how much caffeine consumed per studying session in terms of 1 cup (8oz) or 1 can (12oz).
The dependent variables were the participants` study habits in terms of healthy or unhealthy (procrastination, minimal studying time, higher levels of anxiety, and less information retained from studying), as reported by the participants. Participants were asked on the survey to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 (a lot more than usual to barely any), how much studying they would get done if they did not consume caffeine at all. Secondly, they were again asked to rate on the scale of 1 to 5 (very well to not well), how much information they would retain from studying without consuming any caffeine. Their levels of anxiety were also measured. They were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 (extreme anxiety to no anxiety), how much anxiety they feel while studying for an exam.
Testing occurred in one session lasting about fifteen minutes. When the session began, we welcomed the students and explained the purpose of the research to the participants. They were given two informed consents to read and sign. They were asked to retain one copy for themselves and the other was collected for our records. Once informed consents were collected, we distributed the survey for the participants to complete. They were instructed to make sure they had two pages and to fill out all pages of the survey. They were instructed to raise their hands if they had any questions regarding the survey.
As each participant completed their surveys, we signed their experiment participation sheets if necessary. Participants were debriefed, and questions were answered to the best of our knowledge.
Of the 79 participants, 43 reported that they consumed caffeine, while 35 reported not consuming caffeine. We had an almost equal amount of participants who either consumed caffeine or not.
It was hypothesized that the more caffeine consumed by an individual, in our case, a student, the less likely he/she will exhibit positive study habits. An independent sample t-test and Pearson correlation test with an alpha level of .05 were used to examine whether caffeine was consumed and the amount of caffeine consumed in relation to study habits.
We found that participants who consumed caffeine while preparing for an exam show no significant difference from participants who had not consumed caffeine while preparing for an exam. Exam preparation seemed to be unrelated to caffeine consumption, (r=.0648, df=78, p=.573).
The amount of time in which participants studied per session was calculated in accordance to whether caffeine was consumed. Results indicated that there was not a relationship between caffeine consumption and the amount of time participants studied per session. Compared to participants who had not consumed caffeine, there was also no significant difference. When reviewing each survey, the largest amount of cups of caffeine consumed per study session was 3 cups. We concluded that participants knew their limits when consuming caffeine and chose not to exceed their limits.
A scale was used to rate how much studying participants would get done if they had not consumed any caffeine. Results showed that there were no differences between how much studying students would complete in a study session and non-caffeine consumption. Most of the participant`s scores were neutral (3) on a scale of 1 to 5. There were no great significant differences between non-caffeine consumption and how much studying would be done.
Scales were also used to rate how much information was retained and levels of anxiety. There were no significant differences between information retention and levels of anxiety. However, in relevance to caffeine consumption and anxiety, there was a relationship. Consuming caffeine and levels of anxiety were related, which could be due to the fact, that when anxiety is present, the decision to drink caffeine increases. On the other hand, when we looked at each survey, most participants marked moderate to somewhat levels of anxiety. Therefore, levels of anxiety felt during or before exam contributed to the amount of caffeine consumed.
Bernstein et al. (1994) concluded that children reported feeling significantly less \"sluggish\" after caffeine had been ingested. Caffeine has shown to improve performance in the four measures of Test of Variables of Attention and on a test of manual dexterity in the dominant hand (Bernstein et al., 1994). In this study, participants reported no changes in their study habits while consuming caffeine. Only a small number of participants, five to be exact, reported extreme levels of anxiety while studying for an exam.
To further support this study, more research must be conducted in the future. A different type of survey must be included in our survey. Parts of the MMPI could be added to rate the levels of anxiety among undergraduates. However, this study focused on Loyola undergraduates only and therefore, cannot be applied to other undergraduates at other universities.
Due to the limited amount of time given to conduct this study, there are limitations. The first limitation was that students might not understand the definition of caffeine. Many students only understand caffeine consumption as \"drinking coffee.\" They may not realize that coke and other forms of soft drinks also contain caffeine. Secondly, participants in this study were required to participate in a study as a class requirement and, therefore, will not show interest and not fully answer questions properly. We noticed that on each of the surveys, students who answered \"no\" to the first question asking them if they consumed caffeine or not, tended to skip the following questions. Some participants will see surveys as a waste of time; as a result, they will not answer questions on the survey to the best of their knowledge. Thirdly, caffeine consumption can vary from one individual to another. Some individuals can consume excess amounts of caffeine and show no side effects on study habits, while others show side-effects after one or two cups. Finally, some participants may complete surveys according to social desirability, meaning how others expect them to answer.
For future studies, this hypothesis remains the same. If students consumed a large amount of caffeine while studying, they will exhibit unhealthy study habits. There are some suggestions for future studies on study habits and caffeine consumption, they include: 1) Finding participants who are willing to participate on a volunteer basis because they are the ones who will find interest in the topic; 2) conduct this study on different universities; 3) create a more valid and reliable survey to answer questions that were addressed in this study; 4) recruit more participants for this study in order to validate this study, or pick a limited amount of students and follow their progress while consuming caffeine and studying in undergraduate school.
Braun, S. (1996). Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine. (pp. 132-136). New York: Oxford University Press.
Carter, A. (1999). Caffeine in your diet. Clinical Reference System. 197-198.
Dews, P.B. (1984). Caffeine: Perspective from recent research. (pp. 87-93). New York: Springer Verlag.
Everding. EurekAlert! Multiple, overlapping addictions common among young adults. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: Http://www.eurekalert.org/releases/wusl-moa111799.html on October 17, 2000.
Gormley, J.J. (1996). Non-organic coffee provides false hope if you want an energy boost. Better Nutrition, 58, 18-20.
Manhattan College Counseling Center. The risks of caffeine. Retrieved from the WorldWideWeb :Http://www.mancol.edu/stntlife/ccenter/articles/addicti/caff.html on October 17, 2000.
Mooney, L. (2000). Should you decaf your life? Prevention, 52, 131-137.
Schardt, D. & Schmidt, S. (1996). Caffeine: The inside scoop. Nutrition Action Healthletter, 23, 1-19.
Ten tips you need to survive college. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://www.mtsu.edu/~studsk1/10tips.html on October 17,2000.
Troyer, R.J & Markle, G.E. (1984). Coffee drinking: An emerging social problem. Social Problems, 31, 403-413.
3. Classification: FR SO JR SR GR
4. Are you working?
5. Approximate cumulative grade point average: (choose one)
A B C D F
6. What is your major? __________________________________________
7. When do you usually start preparing for an exam/test? (Circle one)
A. Two or more weeks in advance
B. One week before the test
C. Two to three days prior to the test
D. The night before / the day of the test
8. How long do you study for a test per study session?
A. 1 hour or less
B. 1-2 hours
C. 2-4 hours
D. more than 4 hours
9. Do you drink any caffeinated beverages while studying for a test/exam?
(If yes, go to question 10 and if no, skip question 10 and go to question 11)
10. How much caffeine do you consume per studying session? Give your answer in terms of 1 cup (8oz) or 1 can (12oz):_________________________
11. If you had to study for a test/exam without consuming any caffeine, then:
a) Rate on the scale below how much studying you`d get done:
A lot no change barely any
1 2 3 4 5
b) Rate on the scale below how well you`d retain the information you`ve studied:
very well no change not well
1 2 3 4 5
12. Rate on the scale below how much anxiety you feel while studying for a test/exam.
(circle one)- (anxiety equals nervousness, jitteriness, etc)
extreme anxiety moderate somewhat little none
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