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
Health

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. 

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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.

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“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.

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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?

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