Just seeing coffee is enough to make your mind more alert

If you forgot to buy more coffee but still have an empty can lying around, good news: the mere sight of coffee or something that reminds you of it is enough to stimulate your mind, according to a new study. Coffee is well-known for its effects on wakefulness and concentration, and that popular association may be enough to prime the brain for alertness even if coffee isn't consumed.

The research is comprised of four studies that involved individuals from both Eastern and Western cultures where coffee and tea are regularly consumed. The team looked at the mental alertness effect coffee- and tea-related cues may have on participants who saw them.

Participants who were exposed to coffee-related cues — but who didn't actually drink coffee — experienced a change in perception that included thinking in 'more concrete, precise terms' and perceiving time as shorter. This effect wasn't as strong in individuals from Eastern cultures, however, where the association between coffee and alertness may not be as prominent.

This finding may shed light on some consumer behaviors and the way those behaviors can be influenced from a marketing standpoint. As well, the study hints that humans may experience similar 'priming' at the presence and suggestion of other products, such as potentially experiencing increased alertness at the sight of an energy drink.

At the same time, the conclusion raises uncomfortable questions for consumers who may wonder what kind of influence popular marketing has on their mental state, including whether merely seeing an advertisement or walking past a particular building is sufficient enough to have an unwanted effect.