The recent phenomenal growth of specialty coffee shops offering a large variety of caffeine laden drinks, has led to a new surge of interest in the effect of caffeine on the human brain. Everyone is familiar with the jolt of energy that caffeine provides, but can it also make you smarter?
Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug (yes it is classified as a drug) on the planet. By definition a drug is any substance that alters one or more of the functions of an organism while psychoactive is a term applied to something that influences mood, thinking or behaviour.
When caffeine is consumed, it makes its way into the brain and occupies the special sites which should be taken up by neurotransmitters that gently slow the brain’s activity and bring on sleep. Since, the neurotransmitters are prevented from landing on these special sites and induce sleep, you feel wide awake and alert. More than that, this action actually makes you smarter.
According to a study conducted by a junior professor, Lars Kuchinke, at Ruhr University in Germany, caffeine might promote activity of the brain’s left hemisphere. This is the part of the brain that controls language, hence improved activity in this area might aide people in performing better at cognitive tasks and word recognition (1).
Kuchinke tested sixty six subjects by giving half the participants 200mg of caffeine while the other half got a placebo. He found that participants who consumed the caffeine pill half an hour before being tested were able to correctly identify positive words faster than the group that was given the placebo.
Another study carried out at the Medical University in Innsbruck, Austria, found short-term memory tests improved in men who ingested a dose of caffeine equal to roughly two cups of coffee. In fact after getting a dose of caffeine, almost all functions that are associated with intelligence, like reasoning, reaction time, vigilance and ability to focus tend to improve.
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