The Loh Down On Science

You'll never guess what a saxophone and a seahorse have in common!

Borota et al., Nat. Neurosci., 2014

An outline of the study design, whereby people's memory of the four images on the left was tested with the six images on the right, following intake of either caffeine or placebo.

Does caffeine boost memory?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Remember college's late-night cram sessions?  Was it the cramming that helped pass tests?  Or was it all that caffeine?

Conventional wisdom has long held that caffeine does boost memory.  But until now, no one’s proven it. 

Enter brain researchers from Johns Hopkins University.  They had volunteers view pictures of various items:  Plant, basket, saxophone, seahorse.

Then each drank a caffeine shot.  About as much as in a double espresso.  A control group, who’d also viewed the pictures, took placebos.

The researchers took saliva samples from all volunteers to test their caffeine levels.  Before the test, then one, three, and twenty-four hours after.

The next day, all volunteers viewed more pictures. For each one, they noted if it was the same as the day before, different, or just similar.

Results?  Although both groups identified same and different images equally well, caffeinated volunteers were better than controls at spotting similar images.

Meaning caffeine seems to enhance subtle visual discrimination.

Now if I could just find my coffee mug.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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