Just looking at a cup of coffee could make you feel more alert

Can’t get going in the morning without a cup of coffee? You’re not alone. In fact, according to figures released by the British Coffee Association, in the UK we now drink 95 million cups of coffee a day. According to a new study by the University of Toronto, though, we might not even have to drink our coffee in order to get that ‘caffeine kick’!

Apparently, we’re now so hard-wired to associate coffee with a pick-me-up that merely seeing a cup of coffee is enough to kick-start the areas of our brains that control how alert we feel.

Assistant professor of marketing Sam Maglio, who led the study, said that as coffee is so popular we know a lot about its physical effects, but less research has been carried out into psychological effects.

The study was designed to see if there was a link between coffee and increased alertness, such that the effects would kick in at the mere sight of ‘coffee cues’ without actually drinking the coffee.

The researchers used participants from the USA, Canada, Europe, China, Japan and Korea to give a good mix of cultural responses, and carried out four separate experiments with up to 342 people in each one.

The study asked participants to carry out tasks such as designing a fictional marketing campaign for an imaginary brand of coffee or tea, and also asked them to self-monitor how their alertness increased.

When the results were correlated, those who had been working on the coffee campaigns as opposed to tea were thinking in more ‘concrete, precise terms’.  They also thought that the time had passed more quickly than those who were working with tea-related cues.

These results could be due to ‘priming’, a psychology technique which identifies seeing certain images or words can influence our thinking to some extent. For example, if we always associate the act of drinking coffee with alertness, our memories will start to make the association when presented with just a photo of a coffee cup.

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