For those of us who love coffee, the smell of java alone is enough to make us go “ahhhhh.” Now, a new study explains why the pick-me-up of coffee’s scent is not just in our heads. Coffee’s scent has brain-boosting powers, a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggests.
Coffee smells create higher performance expectation
To test the power of a whiff of coffee, researchers recruited students to take a test with questions from the Graduate Management Admission Test, a requirement for many business schools. Crucially, some of the students taking the test were in a room that smelled like coffee but did not have any actual caffeine in the diffuser scent. The smell of java was enough to improve the math scores of students in the coffee-scented room, suggesting that coffee has a placebo effect on our brains.
We know coffee is supposed to make us more alert, so that expectation helps us rise to the occasion. Students in the coffee room said they had higher performance expectations than students in the other conditions. We associate coffee with working hard, so it may help us actually work harder and do better at our jobs.
“Merely smelling a caffeine-associated scent (without ingesting any caffeine) can boost performance on an analytical reasoning task,” the researchers concluded.
For those of us who get jittery after one too many cups of coffee, the coffee placebo effect is good news. We can partake in the brain-boosting powers of caffeine without needing to inhale it ourselves.
With 80% of the world consuming coffee, the smell of coffee is one of the most ubiquitous scents in the world. It hits us whenever we pass by a coffee shop or our office cafeteria. Next time, you pass by one on your way to your next meeting, you may want to linger.