How caffeine may improve long-term memory

2014-01-13 13:29

That cup of coffee in the morning may do more than clear your head – it may also boost your long-term memory, according to a new study published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that a dose of caffeine taken after learning something helps people retain what they learned, both in the short-term and potentially in the long-term.

As study leader Daniel Borota pointed out, prior studies have researched how caffeine can enhance cognitive function, but this is the first study to look into caffeine’s effect on long-term memory.

For the study, Borota and his research team evaluated 160 participants between the ages of 18 and 30 years. For the first task, the researchers showed the participants pictures of a variety of objects, and then asked them to identify each as either an indoor or outdoor object.

Shortly following the first task, the participants were randomly assigned to receive either a pill containing 200 mg of caffeine, or a placebo.

They were then shown the same pictures the next day, including some new photos, at which time the research team asked the participants to identify them as either: 1) new; 2) old; or 3) similar to the original pictures.

As a result, the team discovered that the caffeinated participants did a better job of identifying pictures that were similar to the original photos than did those who were instead given a placebo, although both groups were able to correctly identify whether the pictures were old or new.

The researchers also had the participants perform similar tasks in dosages of 100 mg and 300 mg of caffeine, finding that the participants did better after taking 200 mg of caffeine than they did with 100 mg. However, they did no better after taking 300 mg of caffeine than they did when they took only 200 mg.

The researchers therefore concluded that a dose containing at least 200 mg of caffeine is necessary in order to enhance the “effect of caffeine on consolidation of memory."

Timing was also a factor. When the participants were given caffeine an hour prior to the experiments, the researchers found no improvement in their memory.

SOURCE: Post-study caffeine administration enhances memory consolidation in humans, doi:10.1038/nn.3623, Daniel Borota, Elizabeth Murray, Gizem Keceli, Allen Chang, Joseph M Watabe, Maria Ly, John P Toscano, Michael A Yassa, published in Nature Neuroscience, 12 January 2014.