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gwern comments on How does long-term use of caffeine affect productivity? - Less Wrong

12 Post author: quartz 11 April 2012 11:09PM

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Comment author: gwern 11 April 2012 11:56:11PM *  7 points [-]

I am trying to figure out whether caffeine helps productivity in the long run. Looking back 10 years from now, how much more/less productive will I have been if I were to drink coffee every day, or every second day?

While you're looking for studies, have you considered just starting a double-blind experiment? If you've read my page on nootropics, it should be pretty clear how you could do it with a water-soluble substance like caffeine and where you could get cheap bulk caffeine.

Comment author: thelittledoctor 12 April 2012 05:48:39AM 5 points [-]

You wouldn't likely be able to just dissolve anhydrous caffeine powder in water and keep yourself blinded; it's incredibly bitter (second only, in my experience, to tongkat ali / eurycoma longifolia root powder).

Comment author: bogdanb 14 April 2012 11:22:08AM 0 points [-]

You just need a similarly bitter placebo. Make (sugar+caffeine) and (sugar+quinine)* such that you can’t tell the difference and ask a friend put to them in two bottles labeled with “A” and “B”.

(*: Quinine is probably a bad choice for a placebo, since it has its own effects that might confuse the results. It’s just the first thing that came to mind that’s bitter.)

Comment author: bcoburn 12 April 2012 12:17:18AM 4 points [-]

Just for the record, and in case it's important in experiment planning, caffeine isn't actually tasteless at all. has a fairly bitter and certainly easy to recognize taste dissolved in just water.

It is, however, really easy to mask in, for example, orange juice, so the taste shouldn't make the experiments hard as such. Just another design constraint to be aware of.

I'd also recommend adding some sort of n days on, m days off cycling to your tests, mostly because that's what I do and I want to take advantage of other people's research.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 April 2012 07:03:01AM 4 points [-]

Just for the record, and in case it's important in experiment planning, caffeine isn't actually tasteless at all. has a fairly bitter and certainly easy to recognize taste dissolved in just water.

Sounds like it is time for cheap gelatin capsules.

Comment author: gwern 12 April 2012 12:24:18AM 1 point [-]

I'd also recommend adding some sort of n days on, m days off cycling to your tests

There's a lot of possible schedules; you need to start somewhere.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 April 2012 07:05:42AM 3 points [-]

While you're looking for studies, have you considered just starting a double-blind experiment? If you've read my page on nootropics, it should be pretty clear how you could do it with a water-soluble substance like caffeine and where you could get cheap bulk caffeine.

If you are doing it just on yourself isn't it just a blind experiment?

Comment author: gwern 12 April 2012 03:35:17PM 2 points [-]

It's useful to say 'double-blind' rather than 'blind' to forestall confusion - 'double-blind' caters both to people clever enough to realize that blind=double-blind for self-experimenting and also to people not that clever or just not thinking of it.

Comment author: thomblake 12 April 2012 04:45:08PM 3 points [-]

In skeptical circles, saying "double-blind" for self-experimentation is a watchword for crankdom. It often gets followed by something like "Can you describe the procedure you followed to make the experiment double-blind?"

Comment author: gwern 12 April 2012 05:18:13PM 2 points [-]

It is?

Comment author: thomblake 12 April 2012 06:05:17PM 1 point [-]

I can't find a reference quickly - apparently it's not as common as I'd thought.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 April 2012 03:49:06PM *  3 points [-]

It's useful to say 'double-blind' rather than 'blind' to forestall confusion - 'double-blind' caters both to people clever enough to realize that blind=double-blind for self-experimenting and also to people not that clever or just not thinking of it.

Yeah, I tend to be conflicted when describing such experiments, for that reason. To most 'double-blind' just sounds like a word for 'scientific' and writing "blind (which incorporates all the rigor inherent in 'double-blind' in as much as both the subject and the experimenter are blind but it isn't "double blind" per se since it is just one dude" is a little verbose. I think I may just go with "self-blinded experiments".

Comment author: DanielLC 12 March 2015 05:18:10PM 0 points [-]

Double-blind means that neither the scientist nor the subject know which is the control. Blind would be just the scientist knows. If you do an experiment on yourself, it can't be just a blind experiment.