INTRODUCTION Caffeine consumption has become a huge controversy in the United States. There are differing opinions on caffeine, but most people tend to think that it affects a person negatively. Some people are beginning to label caffeine consumption as a social problem and some go as far as referring to the United States population as “caffeine addicts. Others are even pressing the regulation of the amount of caffeine in certain products (Troyer & Markle, 1984).
Caffeine has been associated with occupational stress and anxiety about grade point average and is known to disrupt sleep quality and cause sleep disturbances (Gormley, 1996). It has also been associated with lower grades and depression in college students (Troyer & Markle, 1984). However, with all of this negative attention, caffeine still seems to be the “drug” of choice. Four out of five Americans consume caffeine daily (Schardt & Schmidt,1996). Many are consuming caffeine to have a heightened energy level or at least a sufficient one.
Caffeine is a stimulant and it works by interfering with the brain chemical adenosine. Adenosine usually slows down activity and has a calming effect. Higher consumption of caffeine results in lower levels of adenosine and this is why caffeine puts off sleep and raises concentration levels (Schardt & Schmidt, 1996). College students have a great risk of becoming caffeine dependent because they can use these effects of caffeine to their advantage, especially when studying. Our strongest memories are of things that are emotionally provoking (Braun, 1996). That would mean that late night crammers armed with caffeine would tend to remember things more clearly because the caffeine is undoubtedly provoking their emotions. Studies have shown that caffeine improves the ability to do things that require “speed” but has little or no effect on things requiring “power” (Braun, 1996). When talking about things requiring “speed,” it is meant that tasks such as simple arithmetic, visual-choice reaction time, and “data-driven” tasks are easier to do. Caffeine, then, would be ideal for a student preparing for a test that might require the use of these tasks. However, there is no solid evidence whether caffeine is or is not helpful in performing intellectual tasks. It has been shown that caffeine may worsen performance for more complicated tasks such as long word problems that are quite complex (Schardt & Schmidt, 1996). This may be more along the lines of what is being studied by college students.
Studies conducted on this topic usually conclude that the effects of caffeine are dependent on the person. One study found signs that mental performance is affected by caffeine, and concluded that this affect was dependent on the impulsiveness of the user. Impulsive people were defined as those who were more concerned with speed than accuracy and who were more awake in the evening than in the morning. When impulsive people were given caffeine in the morning, when they were usually not fully aroused, such tasks as proofreading for grammatical and typographical errors improved. When caffeine was given to them in the evening, however, performance on tasks such as the above mentioned was worse than when they did not consume any caffeine at all. On the other hand, people who were not defined as impulsive reacted the exact opposite way, doing better in the evening and worse in the morning (Braun, 1996). This study basically contributed to the idea that the effects of caffeine are dependent on the person and also the task they are performing. Taking all of this into consideration, a general rule that could be formed seems to be caffeine is more helpful to people who tend to be not naturally aroused and for working on tasks that are straightforward (Braun, 1996). Therefore, caffeine would be an asset for a college student who is trying to put off sleep late at night to study for a test where memorization would be a pretty straightforward task. Studying this way, however, would be considered unhealthy according to a college survival tip list where studying during the day and avoiding food and drink containing caffeine right before or right after studying are listed (www.mtsu.edu/~studskl/10tips.html). This would be an unhealthy study habit because the best thing you could do before a test is sleep good the preceding night. Also, sleep deprivation in general is an unhealthy habit. This would probably cause a student to be more anxious about the test because they would be up all night worrying about it. This leads to the subject of anxiety level and caffeine consumption.
In another study, caffeine effects were measured in normal school-age children. Twenty-one participants were evaluated and measured on attention tests, short-term memory, processing speed, and anxiety levels and caffeine levels were determined by saliva samples. The study concluded that the children were reporting higher levels of anxiety after caffeine consumption but the caffeine enhanced their performance on a test of attention and motor tasks. Other data obtained from the same article also indicates that higher doses of caffeine produced a subjective feeling of anxiety in adults (Bernstein & et al, 1994). Anxiety in a college student’s life does not help them be as successful as they could be. According to Matiasen (1984), students with high levels of debilitating anxiety and lower levels of facilitating anxiety were linked to “academic frustration syndrome.” This basically means that the high level of debilitating anxiety these students had was holding them back from their full potential and they wound up becoming frustrated with their academic work because they didn’t have enough facilitating, or helpful anxiety to balance out. Caffeine dependent students may not even be aware that the caffeine they are consuming, for example to help them stay up late and study, may be having these negative effects on them.
Caffeine brings out mixed thoughts in people. Some think its helpful to them, others treat caffeine like it really is a “drug.” Either way, it is known that caffeine has some sort of effect on a person. This study intended to see if there was any relationship between caffeine consumption and study habits. It was hypothesized that higher levels of caffeine consumption would be correlated with unhealthy study habits. It also tried to find out if college students are using caffeine to their advantage or disadvantage.
The participants in this study were asked to participate on a voluntary basis. Of the original 100 people that were expected to participate, 78 was the actual number used. There were 20 males and 58 females and they were all students at a private university in New Orleans. They ranged in age from 17 to 21. Convenience sampling was used and the participants were recruited from Psychology course classrooms. They were asked to participate voluntarily and then given an informed consent form to read and sign. Some were given course credit for their participation.
The materials used in this study included a 12 item questionnaire prepared by the experimenter and two versions of an informed consent form, one for the participant and one for the experimenter. A copy of the questionnaire can be found in the appendix. Demographic information was limited to the participant’s age and sex. The questions assessed the participants caffeine intake and study habits. They found out how much caffeine students consume and asked about students test preparation. Here are some examples of these questions: “How much caffeine do you consume per study session?” and “When do you usually start preparing for an exam/test?” The questions also aimed for the students attitudes towards caffeine, meaning if they thought it was good, bad, helpful, etc. An example of one of these questions would be “If you had to study for a test/exam without consuming any caffeine, then: rate on a scale how much studying you would get done and how well you would retain the information.”
Design and Procedure
This was a correlational study which looked at the relationship between caffeine consumption and study habits. One variable was the student’s caffeine intake and this was measured in cups/cans of caffeinated beverages the student consumed while studying. A cup in this case was measured as eight ounces and a can as twelve ounces. Another variable was the student’s study habits, which were measured as either healthy or unhealthy. Healthy study habits in this case were preparing for a test at least two to three days in advance for at least 2-4 hours and not waiting until the night before or day of to study. This was measured by a questions on the survey that asked “When do you usually start preparing for a test?” and “How long do you study for a test per study session?”
The students all arrived by a certain time and were all seated in desks wherever they chose to sit. They were told about the study and asked to participate on a voluntary basis. Those who wanted to participate were given informed consent forms to read and sign. Two copies of informed consent were signed by each participant. They kept one for their records and the experimenter obtained the other copy. After informed consent was obtained, the questionnaires were dispersed, they were told not to put names on the questionnaire, and the students were allowed to start as soon as they received the questionnaire. All of the questionnaires were completed within fifteen minutes. After completion of the questionnaires, all participants were given the opportunity to ask any questions they had about the study. They were debriefed about the nature and the purpose of the study, basically telling them that it was thought large amounts of caffeine consumed would be correlated with unhealthy study habits. They were also given a phone number where they could reach the experimenter for any further questions or concerns they may have. They were thanked and allowed to leave.
RESULTSThe research studied caffeine consumption effects on student’s study habits. 78 college students (58 women and 20 men) participated by filling out a questionnaire. All were completed correctly so all were used for data analysis. The mean age was 18.73. There were 43 cases of an individual consuming caffeine while studying and 35 cases of not consuming caffeine while studying.
On the basis of a correlational analysis, 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. However there was a correlation found between caffeine consumption and anxiety level, (r =-.3074, df =75, p =.007). The results of an independent samples t-test between caffeine consumption and anxiety showed higher levels of anxiety when not consuming caffeine while studying, (M =3.2424, SD =1.001) than when consuming caffeine while studying, (M =2.5952, SD =1.014) t(73)=2.76. There was also a correlation between the amount of caffeine consumed and the length of a study session (r =.3153, df =78, p =.005
DISCUSSION The purpose of this study was to find out if caffeine consumption and study habits of college students are correlated. In our sample of college students, we found that a little more than half consumed caffeine while studying. However, we found no support of our original hypothesis, which was higher levels of caffeine would be correlated with unhealthy study habits. In contrast, it was found that higher levels of caffeine consumption was positively correlated with longer study sessions, lasting from 2-4 hours. For the purpose of this study, longer study sessions were considered healthy study habits. We also found that caffeine was associated with lower levels of test anxiety. Past studies pointed out the association of caffeine with higher levels of anxiety (Troyer and Markle, 1984), but our study contradicted those findings. Like studies in the past we were interested in finding out if caffeine effects personal habits. However, this study is different from previous ones because all of the information used was self-reported. No caffeine was actually given or taken away from the participants and all information was based on what the participants reported.
One major problem with the study was the questionnaire used to collect data. The questions did not really tell anything about the subject. They did get some surface information but they could have been more detailed. This affects the internal validity because the questions did not really measure what they were supposed to measure. It also affects the external validity because these scores that did not measure what they were supposed to measure cannot be applied to the population. In the future a more detailed questionnaire could be used to assess caffeine consumption and study habits. Improvements in the questionnaire could consist of a more reliable measurement of caffeine consumption and not limiting caffeine consumption to cups/cans of beverages but also include other sources of caffeine such as food and pills. Practical implications of the study seem to point to more necessary research to see if caffeine is really effecting student’s anxiety levels negatively (Gormley, 1996). It may actually be helping the students relax before a test so they feel less anxious. However, most of the research still points out the negative association of caffeine consumption, so a theoretical implication of this study would be the realization by college students that caffeine consumption may be harming them and their academic achievement and they may not even know it. Further research may also open up the general population’s eyes to the harmful affects of caffeine, for example depression, and they may realize that they need to cut back their sleep deprivation and they shouldn’t rely on that morning cup of coffee to get them through the day.
REFERENCES Berstein, G. A., Carroll, M. E., Crosby, R. D., Perwein, A. R., Go, F. S., & Benowitz, N. L. (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: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine. New York Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gormley, J. J. (1996). Non-organic coffee provides false hope if you want an energy boost. Better Nutrition, 58, 18.
Mathiasen, R. E. (1984). Predicting college academic achievement: A research review. College Student Journal, 18, 380-384.
Schardt, D. & Schmidt, S. (1996). Caffeine: the inside scoop. Nutrition Action Healthletter, 23, 10-15.
Troyer, R. J. & Markle, G. E. (1984). Coffee drinking: An emerging social problem? Social Problems, 31, 403-412.
SURVEY1. Age _________2. Gender _________
3. Classification: FR SO JR SR GR
4. Are you working: Yes, full-time Yes, part-time No
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 testC. 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? Yes No
(If yes, go to question 10 and if no, skip 10 and go to 11)
10. How much caffeine do you consume per study 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 caffeine, then: a. Rate on the scale below how much studying you’d get done: a lot more than usual no change barely any ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- b. Rate on the scale below how well you’d retain the information you’ve studied: very well no change not well ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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 no anxiety