Many of us would he hard-pressed to function without our morning coffee, but now there's compelling evidence that it could actually help enhance your long-term memory.
A study led by Michael Yassa from the University of California, Irvine, sought to establish the effects of small quantities of caffeine on memory function in adults. His 160 participants were asked to study images of objects, and then randomly given either a pill containing either 200 milligrams of caffeine—the same as two espressos—or a placebo.
Then, when the volunteers came back after 24 hours, they took a memory test involving images that they'd seen before, unseen images, and images that were similar—but not identical. They were asked to classify each, as "old", "new" or "similar". There was no difference between participants in classifying old or new images, but those who had consumed caffeine were better at identifying "similar" images.
Yassa concluded that caffeine enhances long-term memory by improving the process of memory consolidation. The results are published in Nature Neuroscience. It doesn't, however, help memory retrieval: a second experiment, where caffeine was consumed just one hours before the test, provided no positive effect. They also re-ran the test with lower and higher doses of caffeine, and the effect was less pronounced—so two espressos is the real sweet spot.
So, the take home is that a modest amount of coffee around the time your study could actually have a real impact on how well you retain information. Students everywhere, rejoice. [Nature Neuroscience via New Scientist]
Image by Brian Legate under Creative Commons license