Researchers at University of East London and University of Westminster recently discovered that students who took water into the exams received better marks than those who did not. While they did not investigate the exact mechanisms through which water had this astonishing effect, several educated guesses can be offered that are based on some known properties of water. Water itself has no intelligence-boosting functions...
In fact, water contains no special properties that promote exceptional functioning of body or mind. Instead, most people consume so little water that they function in a constant state of dehydration, relative to which hydrated water drinkers are better off.
In other words, the issue is not how well water drinkers function, but how badly non-drinkers function. The students who performed well did not perform superbly because of the water; those who received lower marks did badly because of the lack of water.
Once this is understood, we can see that the power of a sufficient intake of water lies in its ability to enable normal physical and mental functioning, rather than unrivalled brilliance.
This should make everyone feel optimistic, because it means that the vast majority of people can perform a lot better than they currently are.
Dehydration is more common than most people realise.
- Consumers of caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee are likely to be dehydrated because caffeine serves as a weak diuretic that increases either urine output, or at least the need to urinate.
- Alcohol is an even stronger diuretic, so without constant water drinking, regular drinkers may lose a considerable amount of body fluid.
- Those who exercise regularly and those who work in warm offices or factories without sufficient water intake lose substantial water through perspiration.
- People who work hard all day without frequent water breaks fail to consume enough water to remain properly hydrated.
There are therefore numerous categories of people who are severely or moderately dehydrated, which means they are probably not as functional as they can be.
The Consequences of Dehydration
Scientific literature is replete with studies that show the negative effects of dehydration on performance.
- Water is crucial for the maintenance of an appropriate body temperature, so one cause of poorer performance by dehydrated individuals may simply be discomfort from outdoor heat or indoor heating, or from outdoor cold or indoor air-conditioning.
- Dehydrated soldiers and athletes have reported feeling fatigued and de-motivated, and claimed that they felt as if they were performing poorly. The perception that one is doing badly can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if it drains ones confidence to continue performing well.
- In another study, researchers found that mild dehydration negatively affected memory and increased fatigue and anxiety. That can certainly complicate performance on an exam or on any other task where memory and concentration are key.
- Some studies show that water can temporarily increase your metabolic rate, likely because your body has to warm it up to match your body temperature. A good metabolic rate frees up sufficient energy to facilitate effective physical and mental performance.
Drinking only one bottle of water on exam day will not have any benefits. Physicians do not recommend two litres of water per day on a whim. To have beneficial effects, water must consistently be consumed in large amounts. One can assume that students in the British study who brought water into the exam were generally water drinkers who quite likely also carried water in their handbags and their vehicles for constant hydration.
Water alone cannot turn you into the next Rhodes scholar or large multi-national's chief executive officer. Studying and hard work remain vital. However, drinking sufficient water can turn you into a better performer than you would be when you are dehydrated, which is something to strive for.