I’ve written a few times about the impact coffee can have on our work. For instance, a few years ago a study looked at the role caffeine plays in our thought process. The general gist was that a coffee can help us to focus in on a task, which subsequently stops our mind from wandering. So great if you want to really concentrate, but given that a roaming mind is great for creativity, it’s perhaps not so good if you want to be innovative.
This was followed soon after by a second study that explored how the noise typically found in a coffee shop influenced how we think. It found that the low-level background noise from a cafe is often ideal to encourage creativity.
Interestingly, it seems that such an environment may also prompt greater effort from us. A study published last year suggests that being surrounded by others beavering away can provoke greater effort in ourselves.
Across a couple of experiments, the researchers found that effort can indeed spread throughout a group, providing at least, the right conditions are met.
“In the current study, we showed for the first time that the exertion of mental effort is contagious. Simply performing a task next to a person who exerts a lot of effort in a task will make you do the same,” the researchers say.
The study found that when participants were sat next to someone that was whizzing through their tasks, it prompted them to work harder too. What’s even more interesting is that when they were sat next to someone working on something particularly challenging, it provoked an improvement in their performance too.
“In our study, there were no incentives for exerting high or low levels of effort, but nevertheless participants exert more mental effort when the person next to them was doing so,” the researchers explain. “Thus, subtle effects of effort contagion, as observed in the current study, expose at least one of the boundaries within which people tend to avoid high effort.”
While the findings are interesting, they raise as many questions as they answer. For instance, it isn’t clear from the research quite how we’re able to detect the effort level of our neighbors. A number of possibilities are proposed, such as an unconscious mirroring type effect, or even a more obvious one such as being able to hear or see effort being put in.
Of course, for this to work in your local cafe would suppose that all of the people working there are efficiently toiling away rather than loafing over a latte. It does nonetheless provide some food for thought however.