The study reveals that the morning coffee buzz might purely be a placebo effect

**The Power of Placebo: Is Coffee’s Energy Boost Just in Your Head?**

Coffee is often hailed as the go-to drink to kickstart the day and feel more alert. But new research suggests that the buzz people experience after drinking coffee may actually be a placebo effect. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience reveals that the feeling of alertness is more closely related to the experience of drinking coffee than the caffeine content. Let’s delve into the details of the study and its implications.

**The Study: Testing the Morning Cup of Coffee**

A team of Portuguese scientists conducted a study to explore the relationship between coffee consumption, caffeine, and alertness. They recruited regular coffee drinkers and performed two MRI scans on them. The first scan was taken three hours before the participants consumed any caffeine, and the second scan was taken shortly after drinking either coffee or hot water with the same amount of caffeine. The average cup of coffee contains 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine.

**The Results: Coffee Experience Trumps Caffeine Alone**

The researchers expected the MRI scans of the caffeine drinkers to show enhanced integration of certain brain regions, given the stimulating effects of caffeine on the central nervous system. As anticipated, the results revealed decreased connectivity in the default mode network, which is associated with introspection and self-reflection, after consuming coffee or caffeine-infused water. This indicates that caffeine consumption facilitates wakefulness and alertness.

However, the placebo effect became evident when analyzing the brain scans further. Drinking coffee increased connectivity in the higher visual network and the right executive control network, which are responsible for working memory, cognitive control, and goal-directed behavior. Interestingly, this effect was not observed in those who consumed only caffeine. These findings suggest that it is the experience of drinking coffee, rather than caffeine alone, that activates these brain regions and contributes to a sense of readiness.

**Beyond Caffeine: The Power of the Coffee Experience**

This study challenges the belief that caffeine alone is responsible for the energizing effects of coffee. Instead, it highlights the importance of the overall coffee-drinking experience, including the ritual of brewing, adding milk or sugar, and savoring the taste. If you want to feel not just alert but also ready for action, caffeine alone may not be enough—you need to engage in the full coffee-drinking experience.

It’s worth noting that the study did not provide conclusive evidence regarding the effectiveness of decaffeinated coffee in producing the same benefits. However, the researchers suggest that there may still be a potential for experiencing similar effects with decaf, although further research is needed to confirm this.


While the idea of coffee’s energy boost being a placebo might be disconcerting to some coffee lovers, this study sheds light on the power of our beliefs and experiences in shaping our perception of alertness. It suggests that the act of drinking coffee plays a significant role in activating specific brain regions involved in cognitive function and goal-directed behavior. So, the next time you reach for a cup of coffee, remember that it’s not just the caffeine that wakes you up—it’s the overall experience that makes the difference.

Want more tips on improving your well-being and productivity? Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter packed with simple strategies to work smarter and live better, curated by the Fortune Well team. [Sign up today](

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

A Conversation with Andy Ellis, Operating Partner at YL Ventures, on CISO Talk, 1% Leadership Book, and CISO Leadership