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Going out to lunch isn't just bad for employees' health; it can hurt their productivity as well, new research finds.
While past studies have shown the negative health effects of dining out each day, recent research published in the journal PLOS ONE revealed that eating out also reduces employees' cognitive control more than when they eat lunch alone at their desk.
As part of the study, author Werner Sommer from Humboldt University at Berlin in Germany and his fellow researchers split up 32 women into two groups. In one group, each woman ate alone at her desk in a restricted amount of time, and in the other group, each woman took a short walk to a restaurant for an hour-long lunch with a friend. Although the environment in which they ate was different, the food they consumed was identical.
After the meal, the women who had a restaurant lunch were calmer and sleepier than those who ate at their desks. In addition, they fared worse on performance tests of cognitive control, and neurophysiological measurements indicated decreased cognitive control of performance and error-monitoring abilities.
"Reduced cognitive control is a disadvantage when close self-monitoring of performance and detailed attention to errors is required, such as in numerical processing," Sommer and his co-authors wrote in the study.
However, in some instances, this type of cognitive state might be beneficial to an employee, they wrote.
"In other situations, (a reduction) of cognitive control may be advantageous, such as when social harmony or creativity is desired," the authors wrote.
The researchers did note, however, that since the meals differed in many ways — including the presence of a friend, environment and lack of time restrictions — it is impossible to specify, at this point, which of the variables are causing the effects they observed in the study.
The study was co-authored by Birgit Stürmer, Olga Shmuilovich, Manuel Martin-Loeches and Annekathrin Schacht.