A Bitter Buzz: The Psychology Behind Our Love of Coffee

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A new study found that coffee drinkers are actually more sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine.

Coffee is a complex beverage – and it’s experienced differently by everyone.

Your appreciation (or not) of coffee is largely driven by genetics, which control a host of factors raging from your caffeine tolerance to sensory perception.

A new study from Northwestern University, recently published in Scientific Reports, found that coffee lovers aren’t less sensitive to the bitter taste of coffee – instead, the opposite is true.

This suggests an interesting psychological phenomenon behind our love of coffee.

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People with genes indicating high sensitivity to quinine and propylthiouracil tended to drink less coffee on average, Forbes reports.

But humans generally have a genetic “inborn aversion towards bitterness,” to stop us from eating  poisonous food. So why do we keep refilling our cups?

Researchers suggest a psychological phenomenon: “It is possible that coffee consumers acquire a taste for (or an ability to detect) caffeine given the learned positive reinforcement (i.e. stimulation) elicited by caffeine.”

This means that coffee is literally an acquired taste, driven by our Pavlovian response associating the bitterness to the subsequent energy boost over time.


 

Read more: The Funny Psychology Of Why We Love The Taste Of Coffee

Related: Is Caffeine In Your Genes?

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