JAN 15, 2014 12:00 AM PST

Better Memory Through Caffeine?

WRITTEN BY: Jen Ellis
For many of us, the morning cup of coffee or caffeinated soda is essential to starting our day. We may use it to wake up, to feel more alert and active, or just because the lack of caffeine makes us feel wretched. According to a recent study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have discovered another benefit to caffeine consumption-improvement in memory.

While caffeine has had many documented effects on the human body and has been shown to enhance cognitive function, the effect on memory has not been studied in great detail. The prevailing theory was that caffeine had limited, if any, effect on long-term memory. This study tested the effects of caffeine on long-term memory by using pattern separation, a method of testing deeper levels of recall.

Participants with a clean baseline (those who wouldn't normally consume caffeine in any form) were asked to look over a series of photographs. Five minutes later, the participants were given either a caffeine pill (200 mg dose) or a placebo. Caffeine levels were verified before taking the tablets, and levels were measured at the 1, 3, and 24 hours mark (post-ingestion).

The next day, participants were given more photos and asked to identify the ones they saw the day before. Some photos were repeated and some had not been displayed before. However, some of the new photos were very similar to the previous photos, with subtle, harder to distinguish differences.

The ability to distinguish between subtle differences in non-identical items is known as pattern separation, and it is indicative of a deeper, more strongly held memory. In the study, the number of people correctly identifying similar photos as similar (instead of exactly the same) was higher in the caffeine-consuming group compared to the non-caffeine control group. This implies a positive effect of caffeine on memory-at least for a little more than a day after consumption-and by testing the mechanism of pattern separation, it implies deeper retention and longer-term memory might be possible.

Having the participants consume caffeine immediately after viewing the photos, instead of beforehand, is a clear distinction from previous studies. By introducing the substance to be studied prior to the task, the research team believes they have minimized the likelihood of interference from other factors (naturally increased attention, improved focus just from the act of participating in a study, or other placebo factors). The mechanism between caffeine and improved memory is still unknown, and the research team plans to turn their attention to this issue in the future.

Remember, the participants in this study did not normally consume caffeine, so their baseline values were very low. If you already drink coffee, there's no reason to expect that drinking more coffee will improve your memory even further-and there are certainly detrimental effects in drinking too much coffee. But at least this study does seem to give us another reason to enjoy our morning cup of joe with a clear conscience, and perhaps a clearer mind.
About the Author
You May Also Like
NOV 13, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 13, 2018
The Mechanism of a Cell-penetrating Peptide is Revealed
Cells have a barrier around them, which carefully controls what can move across it. That presents a challenge in pharmaceutical design....
NOV 27, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 27, 2018
Here's What Makes Mars So Challenging to Land On
Humankind has sent spacecraft to a plethora of worlds in our solar system, including asteroids, comets, moons, and planets. Of all, Mars has consistently p...
DEC 06, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 06, 2018
Rare Uranium Compounds Capable of High-temperature Superconductivity at Near Normal Pressure
Uranium is often associated with nuclear fuel materials, but very soon they could be used to power a new wave of industrial revolution. Scientists from Rus...
DEC 20, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 20, 2018
Bacteria-Powered Superfluids
Viscosity is the property of a fluid. It is the measure of its resistance to transformative stress, in a simpler explanation, the friction between its mole...
DEC 26, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 26, 2018
Water Detected on Variety of Different Asteroids
Earth sports a lot of water and planetary scientists still aren’t entirely sure how it all got here. To help solve this mystery, astronomers regularl...
FEB 21, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
FEB 21, 2019
Turning Plastic Wastes into Battery Parts
Upcycling is the process of turning low-value materials or even waste into something highly valuable. A group of American and Mexican chemists reported tha...
Loading Comments...