For those of us who wake up in the morning unable to speak, fully open our eyes or function in any real capacity before at least 16 ounces of caffeine are running through our veins, this latest coffee study might seem a little suss. Believe it or not, researchers at the University of Toronto and Monash University in Australia have found that “exposure to coffee cues” (such as sight and smell) can have similar effects to those we get drinking it.
Yeah, okay, tell that to my morning work performance.
According to the results of the study, just seeing, smelling or thinking about coffee can cause the same type of “arousal” (in the psychological sense) as if you actually drank a cup of coffee and ingested the caffeine. Researchers found that study participants were able to think in more concrete and detailed terms as well as perceive time as shorter.
“We wanted to see if there was an association between coffee and arousal such that if we simply exposed people to coffee-related cues, their physiological arousal would increase, as it would if they had actually drank coffee,” U of T associate prof. Sam Maglio said. “People who experience physiological arousal – again, in this case as the result of priming and not drinking coffee itself – see the world in more specific, detailed terms.”
While we’re still highly skeptical that just picturing a cup of steaming hot coffee will actually wake us from the early-morning haze on a regular basis, the connection between certain thoughts or smells and physiological effects isn’t a new one. Why do you think we perk up any time we think of puppies?
Maglio and his partner Eugene Chan of Monash University are looking at their findings in the broader sense of how food and beverage impact cognition. They believe their coffee revelation could have “a number of implications for how people process information and make judgments and decisions.”
While we know a whole lot about the physiological effects of coffee, Maglio and Chan point out that there’s still very little known about its psychological effects. In their study, they conducted four experiments where participants were presented with different cues either related to tea or coffee. The results revealed that participants experienced more arousal when presented with coffee indicators than with tea indicators (well, duh!).
Another interesting discovery is that responses to coffee varied on the perception of coffee in the person’s culture. They found that Westerners were far more reactive to coffee indicators than people from Eastern cultures.
“In North America we have this image of a prototypical executive rushing off to an important meeting with a triple espresso in their hand. There’s this connection between drinking caffeine and arousal that may not exist in other cultures,” Manglio explained.
It’s a compelling discovery and could mean for more interesting work in the scientific community. As for us, we’re definitely not willing to give up our daily cup (okay, three cups) of coffee to experience the phenomenon for ourselves.