You don’t have to drink coffee to feel it’s effects, according to a new study at the University of Toronto. Researchers found that just looking at something that reminds you of coffee can cause your mind to become more alert and attentive.
The study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, looks at an effect called priming, through which exposure to even subtle cues can influence our thoughts and behavior.
“People often encounter coffee-related cues, or think about coffee, without actually ingesting it,” says Sam Maglio, study co-author.
“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 drank coffee.”
Across four separate studies and using a mix of participants from western and eastern cultures, they compared coffee- and tea-related cues. They found that participants exposed to coffee-related cues perceived time as shorter and thought in more concrete, precise terms.
“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,” says Maglio. “This has a number of implications for how people process information and make judgments and decisions.”
Maglio says next steps for the research will look at associations people have for different foods and beverages. Just thinking about energy drinks or red wine, for example, could have very different effects on arousal.