"It's not just that the coffee-like scent helped people perform better on analytical tasks, which was already interesting," says lead researcher and Stevens School of Business professor Adriana Madzharov. "But they also thought they would do better, and we demonstrated that this expectation was at least partly responsible for their improved performance."
Madzharov was referring to a placebo effect experienced by 100 students preparing to take a computer adaptive test, similar to those required for entry into many business schools.
The students were divided into two groups for the study, and submitted to 10 algebra questions. The groups were then placed in 2 rooms, one with an ambient coffee-like scent, and the other without. According to the results, the test group in the Starbucks-themed space came out on top, with significantly higher test scores.
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that the results seemed too good and convenient to be true, with Madzharov and her team also agreeing. They subsequently set out to further clarify their findings, but conducting a 200 person strong survey, asking students whether they thought the smell of coffee would stimulate them towards a higher level of cognitive performance. Based on the results of this follow up survey, the researchers noticed that the majority of the students held the belief that the smell of coffee would boost their test scores, perhaps resulting in a placebo-related increase in performance.
The researchers are hoping that then freshly ground findings (pun intended) can be used to boost performance in a wide range of settings, including coffee-induced productivity for businesses.
"Olfaction [the sense of smell] is one of our most powerful senses," says Madzharov. "Employers, architects, building developers, retail space managers and others, can use subtle scents to help shape employees' or occupants' experience with their environment. It's an area of great interest and potential."
The study is another win for coffee, with another recent study published in JAMA also worthy of your attention. Researchers pulled data on half a million people, and found that drinking basically any amount of coffee was linked to a longer lifespan.
Drink up team!