As I've explained previously, except for one select group, coffee makes you happier and healthier and helps you live longer. However, I was recently pointed at an article claiming that introverts should avoid coffee.
Since a meta-analysis of 127 studies of the health effects of coffee recently revealed that coffee has major health benefits, the idea that a third of the population should avoid it seemed absurd enough for me to want to look into it.
All of the "introverts shouldn't drink coffee" articles that popped up on the first page of a Google search stem from a single interview, in the Science of Us website, with Brian R. Little, author of the 2014 book Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being.
In that interview, Little explains that his statements about introversion and caffeine are based on "a theory of extraversion by Hans Eysenck and research by William Revelle of Northwestern University."
I wasn't quite sure how to take a citation of Eysenck, since he was a notorious racist and is today a mega-hero to white supremacists. While his politics have no bearing on his theory of extraversion, they don't exactly inspire confidence.
By contrast, Revelle is a reputable--indeed a distinguished--psychologist ** as is Dr. Little, who was kind enough to respond to my request for additional details on this issue. He explained that there is
"a substantial body of research indicating that stimulants have a potentiating effect on learning for those who score high on extraversion scales... I have drawn on Revelle and colleagues who have confirmed the effect and demonstrated cautions that need to be taken into account, including time of day."
Dr. Little was in transit when he responded and thus it wasn't convenient for him to send me links to the research. Fortunately, one of Inc.com's Twitter followers came through and posted a link to this 1995 scholarly article describing research essentially showing that extraverts learn faster when caffeinated while introverts learn slower.
However, Dr. Little points out that
"the effect is not a strong one. The admonishment that coffee isn't good for introverts is not one that I endorse (it may well have, as you point out) salutary health effects. But caffeine ingestion, at moderately high doses, does interfere with some learning tasks for introverts."
Even so, I'm not convinced that introverts should be avoiding coffee. While I'm hardly an authority, ** here are five reasons why introverts should (IMHO) be drinking more, rather than less, coffee:
1. Coffee gives a much-needed health boost.
Introverts feel stressed more quickly than extraverts, especially in group situations, very much including open-plan offices. Since stress lowers your natural immunity, which can result in serious illness, introverts should take extra steps to ensure they remain healthy. Since coffee helps prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson's, introverts should have from four to eight (eight-ounce) cups of coffee every day.
2. Coffee helps you tune out other people.
A known benefit of caffeine is that it helps you focus your mind and block out distractions. Because introverts find the presence of other people distracting, drinking coffee can help them stay on task without paying an "attention tax" resulting from the presence of other people in close proximity. Again, being able to focus even when surrounded by other people is crucial to remaining productive in an open-plan office.
3. Coffee provides an excuse to leave the office.
Since a great deal of office coffee is virtually undrinkable (does anyone EVER clean those single-shot machines?), the need for a decent cup of coffee is almost universal. Because of this, an introvert who needs a break from the presence of other people can always volunteer to make a coffee run. This not only makes the introvert a local hero, but also provides some alone time to recharge his or her batteries.
4. Coffee makes you more talkative (when it's necessary).
While coffee can help you block out the distraction of other people, it can also help you get out of your shell when you decide to focus on somebody else or need to address a group of people. Coffee is thus a healthier form of "Dutch courage" (drinking alcohol before taking a risk). When I do public speaking, I always have a cup of coffee immediately before getting onstage.
5. Coffee gives you an excuse to take some extra time to think.
Unlike extraverts (who tend to blurt things out), introverts prefer to think before they respond. Unfortunately, extraverts have a tendency to carry the conversation forward while an introvert is thoughtfully considering. A mug of coffee provides a perfect prop for an introvert to suspend the conversation long enough to think things through. Here's how:
Extravert: [Yada, yada, yada]
Introvert: I want to comment on that. Hang on. (Takes long pull of coffee while considering what to say.) Here's what I think ...
I have used this technique literally thousands of times, both in one-on-one meetings and in conference room situations. It never fails.
However, you might ask: Why does it have to be coffee rather than, say, water? Easy. Drinking water implies your throat is dry, a sign of nervousness. (Remember the controversy between Trump and Rubio over drinking water onstage?)
Drinking coffee, on the other hand, communicates confidence because, let's face it, coffee is the beverage of champions.
Even introverted ones.
** Note: Everything between the two "**" in this column was added at around 11pm Eastern, after I'd gotten a response from Dr. Little."