Every Good Study Session Should End with Starbucks

By on January 23, 2014
Starbucks takes a firm stance supporting same-sex marriage. In opposition, many groups have started a "Dump Starbucks" campaign. Carlene Robinson/News Editor

If you’re just relying on that venti Caramel Macchiato with a double shot of espresso to keep you awake the night before a killer exam, you might be missing out on the full potential of your coffee craze. Countless studies have investigated the cognitive enhancement provided by caffeine, but recent research from Johns Hopkins and the University of California reveals a specific contribution to the consolidation in long-term memory.

Because it is difficult to experimentally define a correlation between caffeine consumption and the retrieval of memories due to various outside factors that influence testing performance (level of arousal, processing speed, etc.), Daniel Borota and his team of researchers at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences took a different angle of investigation. The scientists administered caffeine to the subjects following a study session, and evaluated their ability to discriminate between information they had actually studied and “lure” information.

The study was carried out through randomized, double-blind trials. Potential subjects who reported average consumption of over 500 mg of caffeine per week were excluded from the study. Participants were given objects to study to involve the hippocampus in pattern separation, then they immediately received either 200 mg of caffeine or a placebo. Salivary samples were collected to assess caffeine metabolites. After 24 hours, the subjects were tested on the recognition and identification of objects presented in the study session, foreign objects, and objects similar to the ones presented, referred to as “lures.” Participants who received the caffeine had greater accuracy in discriminating between the actual objects and the distraction lures. Further trials were repeated with various amounts of caffeine, and it was experimentally determined that 200 mg of caffeine is the minimal quantity that must be consumed to enhance memory.

Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter known to improve the consolidation of memory. Caffeine blocks adenosine, which inhibits the activity of norepinephrine. Many regions of the brain are under investigation for their effect on improvement of memory discrimination, including the CA2 region of the hippocampus, the anterior cingulate cortex and the basolateral amygdala. Once these areas are better understood, the activity of caffeine in the specific areas will be assessed.

While a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino won’t provide you enough caffeine to magnify the efforts of an all-nighter, try saving your trip to Starbucks until after your study session as both a reward and a way to improve your performance the next day.

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