Study finds thinking about coffee makes you more alert

study coffee alert

According to a new University of Toronto (U of T) study, just being reminded of coffee can cause a person to become more alert and attentive.

“Coffee is one of the most popular beverages and a lot is known about its physical effects,” says Sam Maglio, co-author of the study, and Associate Professor in the Department of Management at U of T Scarborough and Rotman School of Management.“Much less is known about its psychological meaning – in other words, how even seeing reminders of it can influence how we think.”

The study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, looks at an effect called priming, through which exposure to even subtle cues can influence people’s thoughts and behaviour.

“People often encounter coffee-related cues, or think about coffee, without actually ingesting it,” Sam says.

“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 drunk coffee.”

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Arousal in psychology refers to how specific areas of the brain get activated into a state of being alert, awake and attentive.

Across four separate studies and using a mix of participants from western and eastern cultures, researchers 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,” Sam says.

“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. Sam speculates that the association between coffee and arousal is not as strong in less coffee-dominated 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,” Sam says.

“There’s this connection between drinking caffeine and arousal that may not exist in other cultures.”

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