Australian and Canadian researchers found being exposed to certain cues relating to coffee can focus the mind and enhance concentration without having to drink it. Their study was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.
The researchers conducted four experiments to test their hypothesis, with participants being presented with cues related to either coffee or tea. The effect was only found in those from Western cultures who link drinking coffee with being alert and productive, and not with those who come from cultures where drinking tea is more common.
Additional study is needed to explore these findings and determine whether consuming different coffee drinks and types of tea might cause different types of stimulation, the researchers said. Meanwhile, Quartz reported, the study raises an interesting question about whether thoughts about the caffeinated beverages could boost focus and concentration during a mid-afternoon slump without needing to drink the real thing.
Many studies have established the effect of environmental cues on behavior and the physiological impacts of coffee and tea, but not much is known about the psychological meanings of the drinks.
It's well-known that food and drink can evoke a sensory experience. Some consumers derive as much pleasure from the aroma and sounds connected with snacking as eating the products themselves. Retailers also use the senses to their advantage. Costco places its popular $4.99 pre-cooked rotisserie chickens near the checkout stands to make an olfactory appeal to hungry shoppers.
Flavor, texture, mouthfeel and even sound are other senses in play when it comes to food and beverage consumption. The makers of Pringles potato chips and Kit Kat bars have found the crunchy sound of their products while being eaten is crucial to the experience and helps enforce the impression of freshness.
Regular coffee consumers may expect the beverage to help clarify details of a task at hand, and so it does for them. When researchers asked participants to brainstorm business slogans for a nonexistent company and exposed them to cues related to coffee, participants from Western countries had more specific and detailed ideas and higher heart rates.
Despite these findings, the coffee industry is likely in no danger of losing business. There are plenty of other rituals and benefits connected with the coffee-drinking experience. Consumers appreciate the sensory experience as well as the physiological effects, so it's highly unlikely they would replace drinking coffee with just thinking about it — even if it saved money and time.
The proof of that is in the numbers since coffee consumption continues to increase. An industry survey this past year found 64% of American adults drink a cup of coffee each day — up 2% from 2017 and the highest level since 2012.