This explains a lot: coffee consumption linked to hallucinations

A study out of Durham University (not a university in Durham, North Carolina, a fine institution in its own right) suggests that people who consume the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day are three times more likely to hear things that aren’t there than those who consume little to no caffeine.

In the study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council, 200 students were asked about their typical intake of caffeine containing products, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks as well as chocolate bars and caffeine tablets. Their proneness to hallucinatory experiences, and their stress levels, were also assessed. Seeing things that were not there, hearing voices, and sensing the presence of dead people were amongst the experiences reported by some of the participants.

Seven cups sounds like a lot until you consider that, at least in the U.S., 1) seven cups of instant coffee is equivalent to about five cups of brewed coffee, and 2) a “cup” is considered to be 8 ounces, far less than those of us suckling at the teat of Dunkin’ Donuts and its cousins with their 24-ounce XL methylxanthine bombs will ever chug in a sitting. 40 ounces of brewed coffee a day is nothing to some of us. Fortunately, I remain firmly grounded in reality, although I’m a little annoyed that my keyboard won’t stop playing Herbie Hancock tunes every time I enter a blog post (and AC/DC whenever I rip into Concord Monitor commenters).

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  1. #1 by Art on January 14, 2009 - 3:10 pm

    What, exactly, is the difference between ‘hearing voices’ as reality and ‘hearing voices’ as hallucination.
    Is see a gnome in the corner of the room any more or less a hallucination than seeing Pat Robertson praying the hurricane away, Fox News claiming to be “fair and balanced”, Cheney telling me that he “knows” where the WMDs are, and Truthers claiming the WTC was brought down by ‘nuclear shaped charges’ in a Mossad plot to frame the peaceful people of Islam?
    All I know is the day goes better if I drink a pot of coffee, do most of what the voices tell me to do, and don’t do what the gnome suggests. The gnome is evil. Good company and funny, but evil.

  2. #2 by Phillip IV on January 14, 2009 - 3:23 pm

    Now I’m waiting for Tucker Carlson to retract his “I heard God speak” story and admit that it was likely only the coffee talking. Not holding my breath, of course.
    I’m surprised, though, that apparently up to 3 % of the population regularly hear non-existent voices – seems a lot more common that I’d have suspected (I’ve yet met only a single person who told me of ever experiencing something like that).

  3. #3 by wamba on January 14, 2009 - 3:45 pm

    people who consume the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day are three times more likely to hear things

    People who drink instant coffee deserve to have hallucinations.

  4. #4 by wamba on January 14, 2009 - 3:45 pm

    people who consume the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day are three times more likely to hear things

    People who drink instant coffee deserve to have hallucinations.

  5. #5 by anon on January 14, 2009 - 4:10 pm

    Another terrible piece of psychology department rubbish ‘research’.
    You can’t tell anything from it because they once again just surveyed their own students by email.
    There is no sample size and there is no response rate. There is also no control over having multiple responses from the same person or possibly from people outside of whatever the sampling population was (not that they tell you what that was exactly).
    People who have abberant behaviour (like drinking 8 cups of coffee a day) tend to also have high prevalences of other unusual behaviours as well. A cross-sectional (almost retrospective actually) observational self-report study with a sample size of 219 which fails to control for more than the smallest handful of confounders does not allow much in the way of conclusions.
    But to be fair to the authors they do not make strong statements about their findings.
    So basically some university students (possibly only psychology students from one university) in England who don’t smoke show an association between a psychometric measure and another psychometric measure.

  6. #6 by llewelly on January 14, 2009 - 10:22 pm

    Frankly I’m surprised to learn that some people can apparently drink instant coffee when not hallucinating.

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