The Psychology of Drinking Coffee

Whether you know it or not, coffee affects your psyche and sense of identity in powerful ways. The influence of coffee is felt on chemical, emotional and physical levels; it’s also highly psychological.

Brewing Style

The style of brew can indicate the likelihood of a number of psychological traits. A 2013 study found that latté drinkers are more likely to be comfort seekers and generous with their time, but also to overextend themselves; that decaffeinated coffee drinkers are often obsessive, controlling and perfectionistic; that those who order sweet, frozen drinks enjoy trends and trying lots of new things; and that black coffee drinkers are generally patient and simple but also stubborn, resistant to change and, as the journal Appetite disturbingly revealed, are more likely to possess anti-social and psychopathic personality traits. 


Of course, the simple pleasure of a hot cup of coffee can have significant psychological effect—sometimes even through the act of holding it. In 2008, researchers at the National Institute of Health discovered that participants who held a warm cup of coffee in their hands tended to attribute warm feelings to strangers and even found them more trustworthy. A more surprising reason to drink hot coffee—especially in the summer—is that it actually helps to cool us off. The body’s thermosensors, located in the stomach, are stimulated by hot drinks; they in turn send a signal to the hypothalamus that the body is hot, which initiates sweating, cooling us down. Does this response qualify as psychological or strictly physiological? Perhaps a bit of both.

Moody Blues

Everyone knows, at least in theory, that coffee is a classic mood-booster—it seems like every office has at least one employee who can’t function without a cup of coffee in hand—but what does the research say? Quite a lot, it seems. A 2011 study of over 50,000 American women conducted by the Nurses’ Health Study found that depression risk decreases with increasing caffeinated coffee consumption. The study was longitudinal, encompassing a decade’s worth of follow-ups with subjects.

Neuropsychological Effects

Coffee—specifically caffeine—is a well-known contributor to a host of neuropsychological effects. While moderate caffeine intake is rarely problematic, too much ingestion of caffeine can actually lead to a state of intoxication known as caffeinism, which can involve agitation, rambling thought and speech, and insomnia—symptoms which also characterize a host of psychiatric disorders. The American Psychiatric Association officially recognizes caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, and unspecified caffeine-related disorder as psychological syndromes.

Put Coffee Psychology to Work for You

Simply put, people love coffee—the taste, the smell, the routine, and the very idea. This is the kind of psychology that the astute coffee drinker can use in her favor. A 2013 study revealed that seven out of ten bosses trusted coffee drinkers more than non-coffee drinkers and that 62% were more likely to hand promotions out to them. Sometimes psychology is as easy as wearing the right shirt or making the right joke: it suddenly makes you the center of attention—in a good way.