Scientists have long sung the many virtues of coffee — so far, we’ve determined that a cup or two a day can make you thinner, smarter, less depressed, less diseased, and also less dead. Now, researchers from UNC have a new benefit to add to the list: honesty.
In a study of exhausted undergrads, the research team found that subjects who’d been given the equivalent of two cups of coffee were more likely to behave ethically than subjects who’d been given a caffeine-free placebo. When the caffeinated students were encouraged to lie by researchers, they balked. The same could not be said for their similarly sleep-deprived but de-caffeinated peers, though: people who hadn’t gotten the caffeine boost were significantly and consistently less likely to do the right thing. Fatigue makes liars of us all, apparently.
And based on the stats from the National Sleep Foundation, we’re all clinically sleep-deprived, which means we’re all basically lying all the time. The average American sleeps only 5.5 hours per night — a full hour and a half less than the recommended minimum. Without caffeine, we’re morally abject monsters. Or at least, slightly more morally abject monster-like than we would be if we slept more.
Being business school-affiliated, the UNC team is mostly concerned with how this plays out in the workplace. Being not-business school-affiliated, I am primarily interested in how this plays out on dates. If we’re all tired — I, certainly, am tired — and if being tired makes us lie, and if caffeine makes us less tired, and therefore less likely to lie, then should all our dates be coffee dates? If you want to get real with some dude from the Internet, should you meet for lattés instead of drinks? If you want to know how someone really feels, should you drag them to Starbucks?
Probably, that’s not necessary. As Fast Company points out, it’s not totally clear that these findings have much real-life application (although I am absolutely in favor of free coffee in the workplace). Lying for an extra few bucks in a laboratory setting is pretty low-stakes, and doesn’t necessarily prove that tired people lie about big things — company accounts, say, or whether they’re secretly married. Coffee isn’t actually truth serum, unfortunately, though it might help a little bit. If you’re really worried about honesty, though, then perhaps what you really need is a good old-fashioned nap date.