“It is a much more detailed memory,” said Yassa. “If all they remembered was ‘coffee mug,’ they would say the picture was the same. But they were remembering the exact coffee mug they saw.”
Scientists call this type of memory — when we can determine that something is similar but not exactly the same as something we’ve seen or done before — “pattern separation memory.” It is the type of memory we use at the end of a work day when we remember where we parked our car in the morning, rather than yesterday morning, or the morning before.
To see if more caffeine lead to better memory boosts, the researchers tried the trial again with 300 milligrams of caffeine. The results were about the same as with the 200 milligram dose, and some of the test subjects reported some uncomfortable side effects from the increased caffeine levels, including nausea and jitters.
Yassa said that there is no magic in taking caffeine five minutes after something that occurs that you need to remember. “Before or between or after or during, it would all work,” he said. “The only thing I would say is: Don’t drink caffeine to pull an all-nighter. Sleep is really good for memory, but if you are going to drink coffee to stay up, you won’t get the boost from either one.”
The next step for Yassa and his team is to figure out why caffeine helps with pattern separation memory. One potential explanation is that caffeine increases arousal levels, which can be associated with better memory.
“Other scientists have found that when animals are shocked or scared or stimulated in some way they have better memory,” Yassa told the Los Angeles Times. “We know that with caffeine your heart rate can go up and there is jitteriness, and other symptoms of arousal too. Maybe these moderate doses of caffeine can boost our memory without these other side effects.”
©2014 Los Angeles Times
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