Could Just Thinking About Coffee Be Everything You Need to Start Your Day?

New research suggests that actually drinking your morning cup may be superfluous.

Fresh hot coffee being poured into a cup from a stainless steel french press in a trendy cafe


Fresh hot coffee being poured into a cup from a stainless steel french press in a trendy cafe

Photo by: grandriver


Those of us who can’t get moving in the morning (or afternoon or evening) and without our caffeine fix know the magic that comes in a cup of coffee. Instant … awakeness. Instant … alertness. Instant … attentiveness.

But what if that magic happened even without coffee? What if just seeing or thinking about coffee or items associated to it could trigger same awake, alert, attentive state?

A new study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggests that may be the case.

Researchers at University of Toronto set out to discover whether simply exposing people to “coffee-related cues” would result in the same psychological arousal – the state of being awake, alert and attentive – as actually drinking coffee would. (A brain’s state of arousal – yes, that’s the official scientific terminology -- can be brought on by factors such as emotions, neurotransmitter activity or drinking caffeinated beverages.)

The researchers, including study co-author Sam Maglio, an associate professor in U of T Scarborough’s department of management, presented participants from both Western and Eastern cultures with coffee-related cues and found that those exposed to coffee-related cues “perceived time as shorter and thought in more concrete, precise terms,” according to a news release about the study.

"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," Maglio said in a statement. "This has a number of implications for how people process information and make judgments and decisions."

Interestingly, the correlation was much more pronounced in Western than Eastern cultures, perhaps because in Western cultures the association between coffee and arousal is so strongly established.

"In North America we have this image of a prototypical executive rushing off to an important meeting with a triple espresso in their hand,” Maglio said. “There's this connection between drinking caffeine and arousal that may not exist in other cultures."

So maybe all those executives really need is an empty cup? Weird thought.

Photo: iStock

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