Coffee’s cognitive perks

There is reason to hail coffee as a morning pick-me-up.  Researchers with Medical University at Innsbruck, Austria, found that “coffee improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times by acting on the brain’s prefrontal cortex” (Gaia Vince). Fifteen volunteers fasted for 4 to 6 hours and abstained from caffeine for 24 hours prior to the study. They were given either a cup of strong coffee or a placebo drink and, after 20 minutes, underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan while completing a memory and concentration test.  The experiment was repeated a few days later, but each participant was given the other drink.The memory tests consisted of participants’ being shown “a fast sequence of capital letters, then flashed a single letter ona screen and told to decide quickly whether this letter was the same as the one which appeared second-to-last in the earlier sequence”  (Vince). Participants responded by pressing the letter “Y” for yes or “N” for no.  All participants “showed activation of the working memory part of the brain,” but “those who received caffeine had significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe.”  The prefrontal lobe is involved in “executive memory, attention, concentration, planning and monitoring.”

Although the study is preliminary, it does outline cognitive benefits one can reap from a cup of coffee.  There is no significant evidence as to how long caffeine’s effects last, or what the long term effect of caffeine consumption is.  Nonetheless, “coffee has an effect on specific brain regions involved in memory and concentration that tallies with anecdotal evidence of the drink’s ‘pick-me-up’ effect.”  So go ahead, continue to brew that morning cup.

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