For some, lunch means bringing a sandwich or small morsel from home, perhaps heating the item in the microwave, and then eating while at your desk as you work on the computer.
We do this because we believe it expands our productivity and improves job performance. At the same time, complaints of work stress and burnout run rampant.
The other side of the spectrum involves going out with friends to a restaurant and then struggling back to face an afternoon of work as it is difficult to regain the work flow.
A new study finds that lunch at a restaurant with friends reduces cognitive control more than lunch eaten alone at a desk does, which means that after a lunch out with friends, we are not as sharp and alert and may make more errors.
However, lunch with friends does reduce stress.
In the study, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, researchers at Humboldt University studied participants over the following scenarios.
Participants in the study either ate a solitary meal alone at their desk in a restricted amount of time, or took a short walk to a restaurant for an hour-long lunch with a friend. All meals were identical in the kind and amounts of food consumed.
After the meal, people who had a restaurant lunch were calmer and less wakeful than those who ate at their desks.
They also fared more poorly on performance tests of cognitive control, and neurophysiological measurements indicated decreased cognitive control of performance and error monitoring processes.
Since the meals differed in many ways including the presence of a friend, environment and lack of time restrictions, the authors said, “It is impossible to specify at this point, which of the variables above are crucial for the effects observed in our study.”
They added, “Reduced cognitive control is a disadvantage when close self-monitoring of performance and detailed attention to errors is required, such as in numerical processing.
“In other situations, an attenuation of cognitive control may be advantageous, such as when social harmony or creativity is desired.”
Thus, it appears that there are advantages and disadvantages of either lunch style with the optimal method best matched to individual needs.
Source: Public Library of Science