Hundreds of millions of people start every day from a delicious cup of coffee. It is a part of a common breakfast ritual and people enjoy it dearly. They are drinking coffee for one of its benefits – energy boost. However, scientists from the Monash University and the University of Toronto say that these effects may actually start in your head rather than the cup in front of you.

Energy boost from espresso may actually start even before drinking your cup of coffee. Image credit: Evan Swigart via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Coffee is a bit of a social lubricant and it is a comfort drink. It prepares you for the day ahead, it helps you clear your head and really wake up. But what if it is all just a placebo effect? Scientists found that such effects as heighten arousal, ambition and focus can be invoked in regular coffee drinkers without them actually lifting the mug off of the table. It is because people really do believe that there is a strong connection between coffee and arousal. And as long as they believe in that, their brains are ready to deliver.

Many of the effects of drinking coffee are in your head and begin taking place even before you put the first gulp of the black deliciousness in your face. It means that the same effects can be triggered by smelling or seeing coffee. For example, walking past your favourite coffee house and smelling coffee inside of it could trigger some chemical receptors in your body giving you that alertness that you are looking for.

Study involved 871 participants from Western and Eastern cultures. There were exposed to coffee or tea in a series of experiments. For example, in one of them they had to come up with advertising slogans for coffee or team. In another one they were reading mock-up stories about the health benefits of coffee or tea. This made people think about coffee. Other experiments exposed them to stimuli, such as images, smells, and sounds, about coffee. Researchers found that sensations related to coffee bring alertness, energy levels, heart rate, and make people think more narrowly.

These effects were more common between people who were from western coffee cultures. They were more aware of the effects of the coffee and were expecting them more. Dr Eugene Chan, one of the authors of the study, said: “This study could even help to explain how drinking decaffeinated coffee can produce faster reaction times on tasks. Perhaps the mental association between coffee and arousal is so strong that it can produce cognitive changes even where there’s no caffeine ingestion physiologically”. This shows how things we sense affect our perceptions.

Coffee is an extremely common hot beverage and for a good reason. However, some of the effects that you are feeling are fuelled by expectations. Therefore, walking to work past a coffee shop might actually be a good idea.

Source: Monash University