PORTSMOUTH, England — For coffee drinkers, there is nothing quite as pleasant as the smell of a freshly brewed pot of coffee first thing in the morning. Just the smell alone of a piping hot cup of joe is enough to get many people out of bed and into the kitchen. Now, a new study conducted at the University of Portsmouth in England finds that coffee drinkers actually develop a heightened ability to detect the smell of java.
Regular coffee drinkers were capable of sniffing out very small amounts of coffee, and could recognize it’s smell much faster than non-coffee drinkers. Furthermore, researchers say that the more a person happens to be craving coffee at a particular moment, the more sensitive their nose becomes to its distinct aroma.
“We found the higher the caffeine use, the quicker a person recognized the odor of coffee,” explains research leader Dr. Lorenzo Stafford in a release. “We also found that those higher caffeine users were able to detect the odor of a heavily diluted coffee chemical at much lower concentrations, and this ability increased with their level of craving. So, the more they desired caffeine, the better their sense of smell for coffee.”
It’s been well established that individuals dealing with substance abuse issues can suffer relapses if they encounter certain smells. For example, if a recovering alcoholic were to smell liquor, they may experience an intense urge to have a drink. Now, this research has shown that even when it comes to mildly addictive substances, such as coffee, smell-induced cravings may not just be caused by familiarity, but also an increased ability to detect the substance.
“Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug and these findings suggest that changes in the ability to detect smells could be a useful index of drug dependency,” Dr. Stafford comments.
The study’s findings are based off of two experiments. For the first experiment, 62 men and women were separated into three groups; those who had never drank coffee or caffeine, those who usually drank 1-3.5 cups of coffee per day, and those who regularly drank four or more cups each day.
Then each participant was blindfolded and asked to differentiate between very small amounts of coffee from odor blanks that didn’t smell like anything. Participants were also asked to identify, as quickly as possible, the smell of real coffee compared to the smell of lavender oil. Study subjects in the four or more cups per day group were able to successfully identify the smell of coffee even in very small concentrations, and were able to pick out the scent faster than the other groups as well.
Finally, each participant also filled out coffee-craving questionnaires, and the results indicated that those who drank the most coffee on a regular basis also experienced the strongest cravings.
A second experiment was also conducted involving 32 additional participants who were not involved in the first experiment. Participants were again asked to identify the smell of coffee, and then, as a control test, subjects were asked to identify other non-food odors. The results again showed that coffee drinkers were much more sensitive to, and identified much faster, the smell of coffee compared to other odors.
Dr. Stafford and his team say that their findings may prove useful in developing new aversion therapy techniques for people battling addictions to substances with distinct aromas, such as tobacco.
The study is published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.