You've probably heard that coffee has some great health benefits. It can even make teams more productive, according to some research.

Now a new study out of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey goes a step further. Researchers found that coffee, or at least the smell of coffee, can boost performance in math.

We're about to discuss data, so go grab a cup.

Leading the study was Adriana Madzharov, a professor of business. She and a research team took 100 undergraduate business students, divided them into two groups, and had them take a 10-question algebra test from the GMAT (Graduate Management Aptitude Test).

The control group took the test in one room. The other did their work in a room that smelled of coffee. Those in the coffee room -- maybe we should call it a math café -- did "significantly better."

That was algebra. For calculus, you need espresso.

In a follow up survey of 200 new subjects, the researchers asked about attitudes toward different scents: none, flowers, and coffee. People thought that the smell of coffee would make them feel more energetic.

Researchers deduced that it was all a placebo effect. The aroma of coffee made people believe they'd be more alert and ready to take on those problems. Because they believed, they could.

Madzharov plans to look at other potential placebo effects that coffee smell might have, for example, whether it might improve verbal reasoning.

There's already the thought that the results could have business applications. Quick, pump the aroma of freshly roasted beans into the office.

Of course, no guarantee that what might work at first could eventually peter out over time.

Now, it's true, according to the research, the subjects didn't need to actually drink coffee. It was enough to smell it. No caffeine needed. Does that mean all those times you reached for a cup of coffee to start an important day you were only fooling yourself? Is a day's readiness all a trick, a head game?

Businesses have for years used subtle scents to modify, cajole, and manipulate moods, emotions, and inclinations of customers and workers. Perhaps the morning (or mid-day or afternoon) cup of coffee is effectively our own subconscious manipulation of our subconscious.

That seems a little too twisted and recursive, especially if you haven't had that most recent cup of coffee yet. Life's too important to leave some things to chance. Drink up, my fellow would-be quants, and keep a pot brewing for the ongoing aroma. Call it analytic risk management.

Published on: Jul 20, 2018
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