Caffeine may improve memory

Taking the stimulant after learning boosted recall

BRAIN BOOST  Having a cup of coffee may help people remember what they just learned.


Sipping coffee right after studying — but not before — might help people remember information later, a new study suggests.

Immediately after scrutinizing pictures of saxophones, four-leaf clovers, seahorses and other objects, 160 study participants took either a caffeine pill or a placebo. A day later, the people looked at another series of images that included pictures similar but not identical to the earlier ones, and were asked whether each picture was new, similar or old. A dose of caffeine slightly lower than that in a tall Starbucks coffee made people more likely to correctly peg an object as similar instead of mistaking it for a previously seen object.

Caffeine might help jog memories by influencing the levels of certain chemical messengers in the brain or the behavior of neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory, the researchers write.

Earlier studies had failed to detect caffeine’s memory boost, probably because those experiments gave caffeine before the learning happened. The caffeine hit needs to come after the new information is presented, while the brain is busy filing those memories away, Daniel Borota of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues report January 12 in Nature Neuroscience.

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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