According to the researchers, smelling a coffee-like scent has an effect similar to that of drinking coffee, suggesting a placebo effect of coffee scent.
For the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the research team administered a 10-question GMAT algebra test in a computer lab to about 100 undergraduate business students.
The participants were divided into two groups. One group took the test in the presence of an ambient coffee-like scent, while a control group took the same test — but in an unscented room.
The researchers found that the group in the coffee-smelling room scored significantly higher on the test.
The team also designed a follow-up survey — conducted among more than 200 new participants — quizzing them on beliefs about various scents and their perceived effects on human performance.
The participants believed they would feel more alert and energetic in the presence of a coffee scent, versus a flower scent or no scent; and that exposure to coffee scent would increase their performance on mental tasks.
The results suggest that expectations about performance can be explained by beliefs that coffee scent alone makes people more alert and energetic.
Previous studies have also suggested that coffee may lessen the risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia.