Email Print Share

"Memory Jolt" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

The consumption of caffeine is the energy boost of choice for millions to wake up or stay up, but now researchers at the Johns Hopkins University have found another use for the stimulant: Memory enhancer.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Coffee shop) Yeah--a full-caf venti latte with a memory spurt.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Caffeine fans research from Johns Hopkins University shows the caffeine in that drink of yours could help memory. The study took a new approach to uncover a specific effect on memory retention that may have been missed in previous tests.

Participants selected for this double-blind study did not regularly use caffeine products. Half were given a 200-milligram caffeine tablet--the other half a placebo--five minutes after they were asked to study and remember a series of images. In almost every other study, the caffeine was administered before the task.

24 hours later they were asked if they could recognize images from the previous day's session. Here's the twist: On the second day some of the images were slightly altered, making the task more than simple memory retention. It now involved the brain's ability to recognize the difference between two similar, but not identical items--"pattern separation"--a deeper level of memory retention. More members of the caffeine group were able to recall the images and discern the differences.

By giving the caffeine after the task, the team eliminated any effects on focus, attention and vigilance isolating caffeine's effect on just memory itself.

Now if we could just get one staffer here to remember to make new coffee.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.