Coffee Makes You Smarter, Johns Hopkins Says

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Want an excuse to step away from your desk and grab a Diet Coke/cup of tea/soy latte? Well, here’s a good one:  According to recent research from Johns Hopkins, caffeine helps enhance long-term memory.

The Hopkins researchers studied participants who didn’t normally consume caffeine. Some participants were given a 200-milligram caffeine tablet (your average cup of joe probably contains between 100-200 mg) while others got a placebo. Before taking the pills, both groups were shown a series of images, and then returned the next day to see how many of the images they could remember. And the caffeine group won, natch.

While this may seem like a minor point, Hopkins psychologist/brain scientist Michael Yassa, the lead author on the report, told the Hopkins Hub that it actually is an indication of a deeper level of memory retention. “If we used a standard recognition memory task without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of caffeine,” Yassa said. “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.”

Furthermore, by giving the subjects caffeine after they looked at the images, the researchers were able to show that it’s not just that caffeine improves your attention or focus; it actually has an effect on memory itself.

“The next step for us is to figure out the brain mechanisms underlying this enhancement,” Yassa said. “We can use brain-imaging techniques to address these questions. We also know that caffeine is associated with healthy longevity and may have some protective effects from cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s disease. These are certainly important questions for the future.”

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