Coffee stimulates short-term memory - 30 November, 2005

Those morning cups of java might sharpen your memory so you can better tackle the tasks of the day, a new Austrian study suggests.

Scientists at the Innsbruck Medical University discovered that 100 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of two &to=' target=_blank>cups of coffee, increased activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for short-term memory, and improved performance on a test that measures memory function.

"We found modulation of a distinct brain area within the working memory network was more activated under caffeine compared to the placebo condition. This is the specific brain region which would be used for short-term memory function," said study author Dr. Florian Koppelstatter, a radiology fellow at the university.

These functions include being able to prioritize information to manage tasks efficiently, as well as plan new tasks and deal with stored information, he said. An example would be the process of looking up a number in a telephone book, and remembering it so you could dial the number, reports Forbes.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans performed on the &to=' target=_blank>brains of 15 subjects who had just consumed caffeine equal to that found in two cups of coffee showed increased activity in the frontal lobe where the working memory is located and in the anterior cingulum that controls attention.

"We are able to see that caffeine exerts increases in neuronal activity in distinct parts of the brain going along with changes in behavior," said Austrian researcher Dr. Florian Koppelstatter of the Medical University Innsbruck.

Participants who were subjected to a 12-hour period without caffeine and a four-hour period without nicotine, another recognized stimulant found in cigarettes, were better able to remember a sequence of letters after consuming 100 milligrams of caffeine. Reaction times on short-term memory tests also improved.

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