Caffeine Boosts Memory Consolidation?

A new study purports to show that post-learning caffeine consumption can improve memory, but some scientists are not convinced.

By | January 13, 2014

FLICKR, DATENHAMSTER.ORGConsumption of caffeine after learning could boost memory consolidation, according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience this week (January 12). A team led by investigators at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, studied the memory performance of 100 participants, half of whom received a pill containing 200 mg of caffeine—the equivalent of two regular cups of coffee—after completing a learning task. The other half were given placebo. The next day, members of the caffeine-pill group were better able to identify images that were the same, similar to, or different from those they were shown during an initial learning tasks than participants who received the placebo.

“The paper demonstrates that giving caffeine after seeing images does improve recognition of them 24 hours later, supporting the idea that it helps the brain consolidate the learning,” the University of Oxford’s Anders Sandberg told BBC News. “However, there was no straight improvement in recognition memory thanks to caffeine. Rather, the effect was a small improvement in the ability to distinguish new images that looked like [the old ones], from the real old images.”

And as National Geographic’s Only Human blog pointed out, some scientists are questioning the statistical significance of the study’s results on Twitter. One of those scientists, Jon Simons from the University of Cambridge, told The Guardian: “The claim that caffeine affects the consolidation of memories is based on quite a small effect that would really benefit from replication in a larger sample to be convincing.”

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