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Updated 03 April 2019

Coffee on your mind? Even thinking about it 'arouses' the brain

Just looking at things that call coffee to mind can arouse a java junkie's brain.

Need a quick pick-me-up? Just thinking about a cup of joe can give you a mental boost, researchers say.

"Coffee is one of the most popular beverages and a lot is known about its physical effects," said study co-author Sam Maglio, associate professor of management at the UNi. "Much less is known about its psychological meaning – in other words, how even seeing reminders of it can influence how we think."

Coffee-related cues

But Maglio said just looking at things that call coffee to mind can arouse a java junkie's brain. It's all due to what he called priming, in which exposure to cues about something can affect thoughts and behaviour.

"People often encounter coffee-related cues, or think about coffee, without actually ingesting it," Maglio said in a university news release. "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."

Arousal refers to the way specific brain areas get activated into a state of being alert, awake and attentive, according to the researchers. The trigger can be emotions, neurotransmitters in the brain – and even the caffeinated beverages we favour.

To check it out, Maglio and fellow University of Toronto researcher Eugene Chan compared coffee- and tea-related cues among participants from Western and Eastern cultures.

Not the same boost for everyone

Those exposed to coffee-related cues perceived time as shorter and thought in more concrete, precise terms. Subjective and physiological arousal probably explains these effects, according to the study.

But everyone didn't get the same boost. Coffee-related cues did not provoke as much arousal for participants from Eastern cultures, probably because they are not coffee-dominated cultures, Maglio said.

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

The study was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Image credit: iStock

 
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