Can’t get going without your cup of joe in the morning? You’re not alone. Among all beverages, coffee is the world’s 4th most popular. Many turn to coffee for a lift when feeling low but turns out, just thinking of coffee can give you the same mental and physical effects without ever having had coffee. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of Consciousness and Cognition which found that after thinking about coffee, people started planning to do tasks sooner, and in general thought about more specific, detailed aspects of their lives.
“Not only that,” study author Sam Maglio told us, “but they also had higher heart rates and felt more peppy.”
Researchers for the study, titled, Coffee Cues Elevate Arousal And Reduce Level Of Construal, ran a series of experiments where they asked undergraduates at an American university and a Canadian university to think about coffee or tea (for instance, brainstorming about the health benefits of one beverage or the other or coming up with potential slogans for a new brand). Then researchers gave them different measures to see if their manipulation had the same effects as drinking coffee.
“We wanted to get a sense of just how powerful coffee is,” Maglio told us. “Everybody knows that drinking coffee perks us up, but we were hoping to see if people might get the same perk from just thinking about coffee.”
A typical cup of coffee contains 150 mg of caffeine. A cup of tea normally has 40 mg of caffeine. Drinking coffee or tea stimulates the nervous system and can perk you up after a bout of fatigue. Maglio explains that decades of priming research gave him and colleagues a pretty good hunch that just thinking about coffee would trigger an association with the lift we get from drinking it, which they suspected might be enough to actually give people that lift.
“In some cities, there’s a coffee shop on every block, and even the biggest java junky won’t stop in every single one on their way to work,” Maglio told us. “We were interested in what effects coffee might be having on our everyday lives above and beyond the handful of cups we might drink in a day.”
According to the Coffee Association of Canada, coffee is a $6.2 billion industry in Canada employing over 170,000 people. Statistics Canada reports that Canadians prefer coffee (80 per cent) over tea (12 per cent) when it comes to caffeine consumption. Americans also prefer coffee to tea, drinking an average of three cups daily by 63 per cent of the population compared to 48 per cent of the population who prefer tea.
Maglio says he was impressed with how reliable the effect was of just thinking about coffee. Even though they used different ways to get people to think about coffee, and measured a handful of different coffee-related associations from heart rates to planning activities, they consistently saw the same effect.
“If just thinking about coffee can change our physiology and our thoughts, it might also shift how we make decisions as well,” Maglio told us. “For instance, with coffee on the mind, would I be more likely to splurge on something I don’t really need? We’re just starting to explore possibilities like this: that subtle cues in our environment can have a profound impact not only on how we think, but also how we behave.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com