The Smell of Coffee Improves Cognitive Functions

· October 10, 2018

The smell of coffee is a delight and it stimulates us. There’s nothing more comforting than taking in the aroma of coffee in the mornings. It’s a pleasure for all the senses, the palate, and our brain. In fact, a study suggests that this smell is even able to motivate us and enhance our cognitive processes. It may even help improve our mood.

Most people have experienced this at least once in their life. It’s enough to just open the coffee container, whether it’s whole or ground, to sense a pleasant smell. We love that smell and that velvety profoundness that transports us to other places.

“Among the numerous luxuries of the table… coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions… is never followed by sadness, languor, or debility.”

-Benjamin Franklin-

Our wise brain gives us these highly suggestive experiences. The smell of coffee travels from the brain stem directly to the limbic system, up to the regions where emotions and memory take place.


The fragrance of coffee improves our cognitive performance not necessarily because it gives us superpowers. It simply affects our emotions and well-being with a placebo. This is, without a doubt, an idea that’s worth exploring.

Man smelling a cup of coffee.

Our brain loves coffee

Often people say that there’s no place as full of ideas as the inside of a cup of coffee. Writers, students, philosophers, and all others who drink it in the mornings or at night will tell you the same thing. Also, this drink was a favorite for various historical figures. Napoleon was one of them. He drank coffee before each battle, in spite of the effects it had on his stomach.

Caffeine is one of the alkaloids that our brain likes the most. It’s a natural stimulant for the nervous system. Its effects kick in after 15 minutes of ingestion and can last up to 6 hours. It’s wonderful due to its molecular structure. Caffeine is able to block adenosine receptors, those molecules that cause drowsiness or exhaustion.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot more to say about coffee. It doesn’t only help us stay awake and alert in the mornings and even do our jobs better. It can also produce a pleasant sensation when drinking it. We can thank dopamine for this sensation. This neurotransmitter provokes a state of activation, of wellbeing and motivation. However, it’s also responsible for coffee addiction.

The smell of coffee

A study published this year in the Journal of Environmental Psychology revealed something interesting about coffee. The smell of coffee improves our cognitive abilities. In other words, it optimizes attention, analytic and problem-solving abilities, and our work or academic performance. All this may seem like magic, but Doctor Adriana Madzharov explained that it’s a curious case of the placebo effect.

“Coffee is balm for the heart and spirit.”

-Giuseppe Verdi

Researchers were able to demonstrate that just the smell of coffee in a room makes 90% of the people there experience well-being. Likewise, something we already know is that our brain loves coffee. Caffeine stimulates it and generates a sense of pleasure. Therefore, its smell can activate all that due to the path it travels between the brain stem and the limbic system.

The placebo effect has a great power over the human body. According to experts, this is especially true when it’s triggered by the sense of smell. This is a brain resource that’s highly underused, when in fact it’s a direct connection to emotions and memory. It’s an effective passage able to inspire, calm us down or activate us, improve our attention, and improve creativity.

Woman smelling coffee.

Experiencing life with our sense of smell

Famous writer and political activist Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing when she was 19 months old. Hence, Helen developed an acute sense of smell from an early age. She shaped her world by paying close attention to the smells around her.

The smell of coffee was one of her favorites as well. In a quiet and dark world, her universe became infinite and immensely rich with her sense of smell. This is something that the marketing industry and organizations understand very well. Sometimes, the smell of vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, or chocolate can improve our well-being and productivity. This is quite interesting!