How Caffeine Boosts Memory
I know most of you already love caffeine. It’s a staple of college kids pulling all-nighters and a must have for early morning office workers.
It’s the daily stimulant of choice preferred by millions across the globe.
Caffeine is due more credit than it’s given, though. It’s not just some one dimensional drug. It’s deeper than that. It has layers. Like an onion.
The benefits of caffeine – as well as common caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee – can do more than give us that energy boost.
What else can it do?
For starters, how about boost your memory.
Committing to Memory
Research published in 2014 in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that caffeine can actually help your memory. The research team that undertook the study was from John Hopkins.
Michael Yassa was the senior author for the paper. Here’s what he has to say:
“We’ve always known that caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans.”
There hasn’t really been extensive research into how caffeine affects our memories. Of the evidence that is available, the general outlook has been that it has little to no effect on long term memory.
This study, however, conducted the testing a little bit differently.
All prior studies gave caffeine to the participants before the study session. This is one of the first ones to give it to them after studying. That’s when the memory enhancing affect was noticed. Michael comments:
“Almost all prior studies administered caffeine before the study session, so if there is an enhancement, it’s not clear if it’s due to caffeine’s effects on attention, vigilance, focus or other factors. By administering caffeine after the experiment, we rule out all of these effects and make sure that if there is an enhancement, it’s due to memory and nothing else.”
If you’re a little skeptical, that’s okay. I’m right there with you. I’m a fan of caffeine, but the memory boost seems like it might be too good to be true. Especially if it’s the first study to notice the effect.
However, the study was a double-blinded trial. In terms of experiments, that’s pretty legit. It’s an effective way to eliminate bias from both the subjects and the scientists involved. The end results are much more reliable.
Participants were randomly given either a placebo or caffeine five minutes after studying a series of pictures. The next day they were tested on the ability to recognize those images.
The scientists threw in a little bit of a twist to make things more difficult. New images as well as similar – but different – images were thrown in the testing mix.
Why was this done?
Because it was key in teasing out the the effects it had on memory. Michael explains:
“If we used a standard recognition memory task without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of caffeine.”
In fact, this type of skill requires a bit more cognitive power. Michael continues:
“However, using these items requires the brain to make a more difficult discrimination – what we call pattern separation, which seems to be the process that is enhanced by caffeine in our case.”
I often caution readers that one study doesn’t give you a definitive answer in science. The strength of this study is better than most, however.
The big thing to remember though, is that the caffeine was taken after a study session. So if you’re looking to enhance your memory a bit, it’s best to take that caffeine break after a bit of cerebral lifting.
This doesn’t just apply to people who are in school. It can benefit anyone trying to learn new information.
At the end of the day, it’s also just another reason to love your favorite caffeinated beverage.