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Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Folgers calls it the best part of waking up, Starbucks calls it the best part of the day, and Dunkin’ Donuts claims it’s what keeps America running. Coffee’s impact on daily life can be seen in the sheer number of people who drink it. The National Coffee Association (NCA) found that Americans now consume more coffee than ever before — 69 percent of the population drinks at least one cup a day as opposed to 62 percent in 2017.

Coffee’s caffeine levels clearly affect people’s energy, productivity, and even accuracy, but that all depends on ingesting it. Given its prevalence in contemporary society, how else might it influence behavior?

A new study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, claims the scent of coffee alone was enough to boost productivity, or at least people’s perception of their productivity. It was co-authored by Baruch College Professor Lauren Block along with researchers from Stevens Institute of Technology and Temple University. The team asked over 100 undergraduate business students to perform a 10-question test. Half of the participants were placed in an unscented room while the other half were placed in a room made to smell like coffee. Those in the coffee-scented room tended to do better.

The team also conducted a second study, querying over 200 different participants on how well they might complete an analytical exercise in an odorless room, or in a room made to smell like coffee or flowers. Participants thought they would fare better if they were in a room that smelled like coffee. “This research demonstrates that a coffee-like scent (vs. no scent) had a positive effect on performance on an analytical reasoning task, driven by people’s expectations,” the team wrote.

Given that coffee is so ubiquitous — from the home to the workplace — the team concluded that using smell to boost productivity could have favorable returns. Block added in a statement, “I would not suggest that coffee lovers give up their coffee, as caffeine actually increases alertness and arousal. However, there are times that you simply don’t want to drink coffee or you need to cut back on the quantity of caffeine. In those moments, perhaps smelling a coffee-like scent might provide the needed short-term boost. It isn’t the presence of coffee, but the actual scent of it that tricks our brains into expecting to be alert.” 

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
“The impact of coffee-like scent on expectations and performance”

Work By
Lauren Block (Associate Professor, Marxe School of Public Affairs) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Baruch College

Bonus Content
“How the Smell of Coffee Can Make You Smarter” (Food and Dining)

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