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article imageCaffeine addicted? Just seeing coffee stimulates the brain

By Tim Sandle     Apr 7, 2019 in Science
Toronto - Our brains can become sufficiently ‘wired’ to drinking coffee that just seeing the brown liquid is sufficient to trigger a brain stimulation on par with drinking the bitter tasting beverage, according to new Canadian research.
Further, it appears that is not just looking at coffee that triggers the effect. The University of Toronto research finds that simply looking at things that remind someone of coffee can arouse the mind.
Summarizing the research, Professor Sam Maglio notes: “Coffee is one of the most popular beverages and a lot is known about its physical effects.” He notes that: “Much less is known about its psychological meaning—in other words, how even seeing reminders of it can influence how we think."
It was this unknown factor that led to the new research being conducted. This focused on a phenomenon called priming. Through an exposure process, priming demonstrates how exposure to even subtle cues leads to an influence upon people’s thoughts and behaviors.
In terms of caffeine consumption, this means that regular drinkers of coffee invariably encounter coffee-related cues and achieve a degree of brain stimulation, without actually ingesting any of the beverage.
The researchers demonstrated through experiments that a person’s physiological arousal increases to a similar level as if they had actually drunk coffee, when exposed to visual cues that reminded them of coffee drinking. This was assessed in terms of changes to emotions, linked to variations of neurotransmitters in the brain.
For the study, the scientists conducted four experiments to test their hypothesis. This involved presenting participants with cues related to either coffee or tea (the latter drink was used as a control).
The study results suggested that exposure to coffee cues can lead to a concrete construal via greater arousal. The effects were shown to arise even without a person actually drinking coffee.
The effects were not culturally universal, however. The phenomenon was not as noticeable among participants who grew up in eastern cultures. The researchers speculate that the association between coffee and arousal is not as strong in less coffee-dominated cultures. This indicates that the cultural norms linked with coffee drinking are drawn from life experiences and are heavily visual, given the ubiquity of coffee drinking in North America.
The research outcomes have been published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. The research paper is titled “Coffee cues elevate arousal and reduce level of construal.”
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