Placebo expectancy effect of consuming psychoactive beverages on cognition and mood

  • Jaspreet Johal

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Energy drinks have become very popular over the past few years with over half the student population in colleges and universities consuming them at least once a month (Malinauskas et al., 2007). It has been reported that the most common reasons why students consume energy drinks are to maintain alertness, reduce symptoms of hangover, increase energy, to help with driving and to prevent sleepiness (Attila and Cakir, 2011; Malinauskas et al., 2007). Previous research has suggested that energy drinks enhance sensorimotor speed, behaviour, and reduce levels of fatigue (Alford et al., 2001; Horne and Reyner, 2001; Howard and Marczinski, 2010; Kennedy and Scholey, 2004; Smit et al., 2004). The two key ingredients found in energy drinks are caffeine and glucose which have been examined together and alone, which have indicated enhanced reaction times, improvement in both verbal memory and sustained attention and more recently there is evidence to show that expectancy may play a key role in predicting intentions of future consumption (Adan and serra-Grabulosa, 2010). According to Kirsch (1997) people have specific expectations when they consume psychoactive substances that trigger physiological and psychological reactions, which tend to be independent of the psychoactive substance ingested. The concept of expectancy effects can be unambiguous especially when the information provided to the participants prior to the experimental study is specific to a possible outcome response.
This thesis investigated the extent of expectancy effect on cognition and mood when psychoactive drinks containing caffeine and glucose were consumed in comparison to non-psychoactive drinks. The investigation commenced with examining the independent effects of caffeine and glucose, followed by the combination of caffeine and glucose as an energy drink on mood and cognition. The investigation advanced by comparing drink presentation effects (i.e., consuming the experimental drink from a branded bottle versus from a glass) irrespective of drink content on mood and cognition. Finally, the investigation lead to exploring what factors may predict expectancy effects when participants’ consumed psychoactive drinks among healthy adults. This was done by applying the Theory of Planned Behaviour model (TPB) (Azjen, 1991) to explore the contribution of specific attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control to the extent of expectancy effects as well as to behavioural intention, with additional variables including; beliefs, habits, past-behaviour, selfidentity. Self-identity representing someone who drinks energy drinks regularly. The level of internal consistency for Cronbach’s alpha was conducted for each variable within the TPB model and for the additional variables included for test reliability.
This thesis consisted of four studies, which found that consumption of caffeine and glucose independently and also in combination resulted in psychoactive effects on mood and cognition. Experiment 2 was the only study, which indicated an expectancy effect for immediate verbal recall task and the mood subscale tension. Conversely, for experiment 4 there was a reverse effect found for the immediate verbal recall task. However, there were significant expectancy and psychoactive effects found for mood subscales throughout the four studies. It was also found that the TPB model had two significant variables past-behaviour and self-identity predicted intentions suggesting that participants who regularly consume psychoactive beverages have salient beliefs about consuming psychoactive drinks and the TPB model can be utilised to predict their intentions. Furthermore, the Theory of planned behaviour model found that habit and self-identity significantly predicted participants’ expectancy effects on the vigour. Indicating consumers of energy drinks are familiar with expected outcome response. This model was unsuccessful in predicting expectancy response for cognitive performance. Thus, overall the findings from the four studies indicated that caffeine and glucose have cognitive enhancing properties, which also positively improve mood. However, expectancy effects have been identified for mood only, whereas the overall findings within this thesis were unable to identify significant predictors of expectancy effect and response.
Date of Award6 Jul 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aston University
SupervisorCarol A Holland (Supervisor)


  • psychoactive drinks
  • caffeine
  • glucose
  • memory
  • cognition
  • mood
  • placebo
  • expectancy effect

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