Coffee can make you behave more ethically

Mmm, coffee: The nectar of the ethicists.

Go ahead. Have a cup. Or three.
We already know that caffeine can boost memory , and that regular cups of coffee can lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's , type 2 diabetes , and skin cancer . Now we know that this beloved beverage can also help us behave more ethically.

According to the findings of business professors at the University of Washington, the University of Arizona and the University of North Carolina, published last month in the Journal of Applied Psychology, coffee can help sleep-deprived employees resist the urge to go along with unethical behavior.

Study participants stayed up all night and then chewed a piece of regular gum or gum laced with 200 mg of caffeine, the equivalent to two cups of coffee. One of the researchers told Fortune that participants were then encouraged "to go along with a lie in order to earn some extra money. We tried to replicate a situation where a boss or a peer was pressuring them to cut ethical corners at work."

The results? Those who chewed caffeinated gum were less likely go along with deception than the group who chewed regular gum.

Their findings built upon previous research by two of the authors who'd found that lack of sleep can make workers more susceptible to social influence, less able to regulate their emotions and more likely to make or go along with unethical choices in the workplace. 

In a press release, David Welsh, an organizational behavior professor at the University of Washington, said “When you’re sleep deprived at work, it’s much easier to simply go along with unethical suggestions from your boss because resistance takes effort and you’re already worn down. However, we found that caffeine can give sleep-deprived individuals the extra energy needed to resist unethical behavior.” 

The researchers also have a few other non-stimulant-based suggestions for curbing bad behavior at work: 

  • Reduce long hours with scheduling, overtime restrictions and frequent breaks
  • Avoid scheduling tasks that require a great deal of self-control when looming deadlines make long hours unavoidable
  • Provide workplace napping and sleep awareness training
Yawn...I think it's time for my ethics break.


Image by Flickr/

This post was originally published on


You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All