Good news for those who get jitters, headaches, and really bad social graces when deprived of their caffeine fix—beating the habit and switching to a placebo can leave you feeling just as energized.
After dividing up 16 “regular caffeine users” (sounds so clinical!) into two groups, researchers gave half of them the equivalent of 20 ounces of strong coffee per day, while the other half thought they were getting the same fix. The big reveal is that everyone, getting real caffeine or fake, saw their brain getting more blood flow and activity, and the placebo crew felt just as awake or tired throughout the day as their temporarily lucky counterparts.
Unfortunately, the placebo takers also had unmistakable headaches and, temporarily, occasional decreases in alertness or energy. Once a heavy caffeine dependent got past their withdrawal symptoms, however, it appears their brain was happy to keep up the illusion that a caffeine-free beverage break at 3 p.m. was just as good as the real thing. Update: As a few commenters point out (some more helpfully than others), actual placebos are only as effective as the illusion that they’re the real thing, or just something helpful. So perhaps this is a trick best employed with a friend’s sneaky help, or by keeping yourself distracted enough with something else that the mere action of raising a mug to your lips activates your Caffeine Equals Waking Up impulses.
The full 13-page study results are available at Springerlink (.PDF). Tell us if you’ve had your own successful switch to a placebo, or quite the opposite, in the comments.
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