Just looking at something that reminds us of coffee may cause our minds to become more alert and attentive, according to a new study.
According to the NCA 2019 National Coffee Drinking Trends report, 57% of consumers say that they drink coffee because it helps them focus.
It seems that they’re on to something – and you may not even need to take a sip to get a similar psychological effect, according to new research from the University of Toronto.
“Coffee is one of the most popular beverages and a lot is known about its physical effects,” said Sam Maglio, an associate professor in the department of management at U of T Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management, ScienceDaily reports.
“Much less is known about its psychological meaning — in other words, how even seeing reminders of it can influence how we think.”
“People often encounter coffee-related cues, or think about coffee, without actually ingesting it,” says Maglio, an expert on consumer behavior.
“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.”
“Arousal” in psychology refers to how specific areas of the brain get activated into a state of being alert, awake and attentive. It can be triggered by a number of things, including our emotions, neurotransmitters in the brain, or the caffeinated beverages we consume.
Across four separate studies and using a mix of participants from western and eastern cultures, they compared coffee- and tea-related cues. They found that participants exposed to coffee-related cues perceived time as shorter and thought in more concrete, precise terms.
“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,” says Maglio, whose past research has looked at how uncertainty can affect our perception of time.
“This has a number of implications for how people process information and make judgments and decisions.”
However, the effect was not as strong among participants who grew up in eastern cultures, which Maglio speculates is due to the reduced cultural dominance of coffee.
Next steps for the research will look at associations people have for different foods and beverages. Just thinking about energy drinks or red wine, for example, could have very different effects.