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article imageOp-Ed: Can caffeine really improve memory?

By Tim Sandle     Jan 18, 2014 in Science
A new study indicates that post-learning caffeine consumption can improve memory. The story has been picked up by media outlets; however many from the scientific community are not convinced.
Consumption of caffeine after learning could boost memory consolidation, according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, and reported in several media outlets.
With the study, researchers examined the memory performance of 100 participants, half of whom received a pill containing 200 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of two regular cups of coffee) after completing a learning task. The other half were given placebo. The next day, members of the caffeine-pill group were better able to identify images that were the same, similar to, or different from those they were shown during an initial learning tasks than participants who received the placebo. The research was conducted at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Despite the headline-grabbing outcome, many scientists are skeptical about the outcome. For example, University of Oxford’s Anders Sandberg told BBC News that when the research results are examined carefully: "there was no straight improvement in recognition memory thanks to caffeine. Rather, the effect was a small improvement in the ability to distinguish new images that looked like [the old ones], from the real old images."
Furthermore, National Geographic’s Only Human blog raises questions about the statistical significance of the study’s results. On this subject, Jon Simons from the University of Cambridge, told The Guardian: “The claim that caffeine affects the consolidation of memories is based on quite a small effect that would really benefit from replication in a larger sample to be convincing.”
The issue of scientific data and validity is one which Digital Journal has reported on (see here for an Op-ed on this important issue). For example, last week we reported on the questionable claims surrounding Tamiflu.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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