Coffee lovers, lend us your ears

By • Published: December 14th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Now hear this: Scientists think hefty amounts of caffeine may cause stressed-out people to hear voices or sounds that are not really there.

In case you think your ears are deceiving you, listen to this:

Scientists say in certain people under stressful conditions, as little as five cups of coffee in a day can cause something called an auditory hallucination.

To figure this out … and, again, you are not hearing things … scientists at La Trobe University in Australia picked the song “White Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby.

With Bing’s velvety voice issuing softly from a pair of external computer speakers, scientists told self-described caffeine-lovers that they were about to participate in an experiment involving “auditory perception.”

Ninety-two men and women were instructed that the “White Christmas” song they had just heard might be embedded within three minutes of “white noise” they were about to hear.

White noise contains the whole range of frequencies distinguishable by the human ear.

With headphones in place and a counter in hand, the volunteers clicked whenever they clearly heard the song, or a fragment of the song, within the cloudy brew.

You guessed it. The volunteers in the high-stress, high-caffeine group were more likely to report hearing “White Christmas.”

The sneaky thing was, the scientists never played the song.

Volunteers received a dose of pure white noise, without a splash of “White Christmas” in the cup.

Before java junkies start steaming about these findings, the researchers admit the study has limitations.

The stress and caffeine levels of the volunteers were not clinically measured, and ninety-two subjects add up to a pretty slow day at the Coffee Cart.

However, the results do seem to reinforce the link between stress and psychiatric problems, and suggest that excessive caffeine use could complicate matters.

We hear that more and more often.