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Caffeine expectancies influence the subjective and behavioral effects of caffeine

Abstract

Objectives

This study investigated the independent and interactive effects of caffeine pharmacology and expected effects of caffeine on performance and subjective outcomes.

Methods

Abstinent coffee drinkers (n = 60) consumed decaffeinated coffee with either 280 mg or 0 mg added caffeine. Caffeine dose was crossed with varying instructions that the coffee would either enhance or impair performance in a 2 × 2 factorial design. Performance, mood, caffeine withdrawal, and negative somatic effects were assessed.

Results

Relative to placebo, caffeine improved reaction time and accuracy on the rapid visual information processing task, a measure of vigilance. However, there was a significant dose by expectancy interaction that revealed that among participants given placebo coffee, “impair” instructions produced better performance than “enhance” instructions. Caffeine also improved psychomotor performance as indicated by a finger tapping task with no main effects of expectancy or interactions. Impair instructions produced greater reports of negative somatic effects than enhance instructions, but only when caffeine was administered.

Conclusions

Manipulating the expected effects of caffeine altered the behavioral and subjective effects of caffeine. A significant dose by expectancy interaction revealed a somewhat paradoxical outcome in the placebo conditions whereby those told “impair” performed better than those told “enhance.” This may reflect compensatory responding as has been observed in similar studies using alcohol (Fillmore et al. Psychopharmacology 115:383–388, 1994). Impair instructions led to greater negative somatic effects only when caffeine was administered supporting the active placebo hypothesis.

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Correspondence to Laura M. Juliano.

Additional information

Paul T. Harrell and Laura M. Juliano, Department of Psychology, American University. Portions of the data were presented at the 80th annual conference of the Eastern Psychological Association and the 20th annual conference of the American Psychological Society. This project was supported by a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences at American University. The authors thank Brian T. Yates, Ph.D. and David A.F. Haaga, Ph.D. for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Our thanks to Bruce Goldberger, Ph.D. and the University of Florida, College of Medicine Forensic Toxicology Laboratory for running caffeine analyses, Mark Fillmore, Ph.D. for providing the script from his 1992 study with Muriel Vogel-Sprott, Ph.D., and David Gilbert, Ph.D. for consultation on the RVIP task. We thank colleagues Lisa Fucito, Pete Kardel, and Ed Huntley for their assistance with development of the study and research assistants Katie Rotella, Lina Majdalany, Andrea Fantegrossi, and Chris Gibson.

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Harrell, P.T., Juliano, L.M. Caffeine expectancies influence the subjective and behavioral effects of caffeine. Psychopharmacology 207, 335 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-009-1658-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-009-1658-5

Keywords

  • Expectancy
  • Caffeine
  • Performance
  • Placebo
  • Withdrawal