Pumpkin spiced latte or coffee in glass jar on blue table. Autumn or winter hot drink in festive natural table setting with orange leaves, spices, small pumkins, pine cones

Autumn psychology: the real reason you’re so obsessed with that pumpkin spice latte

Autumn – otherwise known as pumpkin spice season – is upon us, but what is our favourite drink really doing to our brains? 

Summer might be doing its utmost best to hang on, with the Met Office insisting that people in England and Wales will be basking in 28C climes until Wednesday, but pretty much everyone is in autumn mode right now. By which we mean, of course, that we’re back in our black stomper boots, getting addicted to TV thriller after TV thriller, and ordering pumpkin spice lattes at every single coffee shop we come across.

It’s that last one – that celebrated flavour combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove – that truly seems to signify a shift in seasons. Because every single year, without fail, the likes of Starbucks and Costa roll out their autumn menus and we rush to share our first #pumpkinspicelatte selfies on social media. It’s a rite of passage, at this point. 

You may also like

Autumn TV: 25 unmissable shows to watch now the nights are drawing in

To get all American about it, you haven’t done Fall if you haven’t sipped on a sugary (some might say sickly) cup of pumpkin-flavoured foam.

But how did we get to this point, really? And why has this one drink been elevated to such a lofty autumnal seat?

A cup to carry with lettering "Pumpkin latte" and a pumpkin drawn. - stock vector
Autumn just isn’t autumn without a pumpkin spice latte, it seems.

Well, psychologist Jordan Gaines Lewis has a theory – and it’s not just hooked on the fact that the pumpkin spice latte’s status as a “limited edition drink” creates a sense of scarcity that prompts us to “act now before it’s gone”. Oh no.

Instead, it’s largely about the emotional response that we trigger within ourselves whenever we sip on one of these autumnal must-haves.

You may also like

Psychology: the rise of the social vampire, and how to handle the one in your life

“Injecting meaning into something – in this case, a season – stimulates feelings of nostalgia when we look back in the winter, spring, and summer months,” Lewis tells Psychology Today.

“Feeling nostalgic toward something has been shown to improve our mood, make us feel more socially connected, comfort us, and make us more willing to view ourselves in a positive light.”

Pumpkin spice drinks
Drinking a pumpkin spice latte has the same effect on us as being cuddled by someone we love, say psychologists.

It’s a theory that makes a lot of sense, especially as Krystine Batcho, a licensed psychologist and a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York who researches nostalgia, says fulfilling this “nostalgic need” packs real emotional benefits.

“When people are stressed, or anxious, or feeling out of control, nostalgia helps calm them down. It’s comforting. It’s analogous to a hug from your mom or dad or being cuddled,” Batcho tells TODAY.

You may also like

Autumn 2021: need a September reset? Try the Danish concept of “pyt”

Throw in the fact that “our brains are strongly wired to respond to the taste of sugar and other carbohydrates,” and Lewis says we are also set to experience a happiness spike that coincides with this burst of soul-soothing pumpkin-induced nostalgia.

No wonder we can’t help jumping on the pumpkin spice latte bandwagon, eh?

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty


Share this article

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray

Long Reads

The Danish concept of “pyt” is your ticket to a soothing September reset

Take a deep cleansing breath and press the ‘pyt’ button.

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray

9 boozy hot chocolate recipes to indulge in this autumn

Because, yes, it’s finally cold enough for a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray

It’s pumpkin spice season – channel the cult flavour with these 11 pieces

We've rounded up our favourite pumpkin spice-inspired fashion pieces to shop this season.

Posted by
Rivkie Baum

Have you been targeted by a social vampire? Here’s how to handle it

If you don’t know who the social vampire is in your friendship group, there’s a very high chance it’s you...

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray

How to make autumnal pumpkin cupcakes with spiced cream cheese icing

Name a more seasonal treat.

Posted by
Megan Murray