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Experiment Shows Caffeine Boosts Long Term Memory

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the its-fun-to-stay-up-late dept.

Science 123

An anonymous reader writes "A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins has published results demonstrating that caffeine seems to boost long-term memory. In a double-blind study, participants were shown a series of images soon after taking either a caffeine pill or a placebo; 24 hours later they were tested on a similar, but not identical, series of images. Those who took the caffeine pill were more likely to correctly classify images as being different, identical, or similar to those seen the previous day; researchers refer to this as a 'pattern separation' test. The beneficial effect of caffeine on the long-term memory of honey bees was covered by Slashdot earlier."

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123 comments

do be a do bee (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about 6 months ago | (#45938607)

so *that's* the secret.

The Secret (5, Funny)

h00manist (800926) | about 6 months ago | (#45938751)

so *that's* the secret.

Yup, that's the secret. Feed coffee to your computer and you won't need backups any more.

Re:The Secret (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939413)

That's not what I happened in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memoirs_of_an_Invisible_Man_(film)

Re:do be a do bee (4, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about 6 months ago | (#45939147)

In other news, caffeinated bees boost long term cardio health for humans running in fear.

Re:do be a do bee (1)

Fluffy the Destroyer (3459643) | about 6 months ago | (#45939505)

Wasn't that Honey Whisky. A bee's going through a wood beam like it was nothing would pretty make me run in fear

Re:do be a do bee (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | about 6 months ago | (#45940011)

Thinking boosts long term memory, and anything that helps ... well.

Re:do be a do bee (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 6 months ago | (#45941675)

This suffers from the usual "caffeine" bias in that it only works if you're not a regular coffee drinker.

Coffee/caffeine does nothing if you're a regular drinker

(except bring you back up to what the rest of the world considers "normal" - caffeine withdrawal is another subject).

Real article behind paywall (1)

evilRhino (638506) | about 6 months ago | (#45938655)

So the article costs $32 to read. It begs the question, what are they hiding?

Re:Real article behind paywall (2)

Lazere (2809091) | about 6 months ago | (#45938667)

I'm not seeing a paywall. Perhaps you haven't had your caffeine yet?

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 6 months ago | (#45938749)

The fantastic article links to the orginal paper [nature.com] . Maybe you should get another cup yourself.

Re:Real article behind paywall (0)

jones_supa (887896) | about 6 months ago | (#45938833)

You also made a typo "orginal" which would suggest that you need a cup to be able to type properly.

Re:Real article behind paywall (3, Funny)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 6 months ago | (#45938925)

I'll take it with cream and sugar, thanks for asking.

Re:Real article behind paywall (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938759)

So the article costs $32 to read. It begs the question, what are they hiding?

Most likely nothing. Yes, they could have submitted it to an open-access journal, but when you've a shot at getting something into Nature Neuroscience then most authors will go for it because, bottom line and right or wrong, it's what Universities and Institutions often look at when deciding who to hire and who to fire.

Besides, if you wanted to hide something why would you hide it behind a paywall which a large proprotion of research insititutes probably have access to? You're basically advertising your secrets to anyone who is knowledgeable in the field and has a research job.

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938975)

They're not hiding anything. They're paying for professional editors, typesetters, etc. in order to improve the quality and fix errors. The article published in Nature (and many other high ranking journals) is significantly improved from the one the authors originally submitted.

Re:Real article behind paywall (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939333)

You lack of knowledge and experience publishing in a peer-reviewed science journal is understandable, but I am surprised that someone who posts to /. (yes, even an AC) doesn't realize that the functions you described do not require a large staff or very much direct human oversight. All submissions for every journal are required to adhere to strict formatting rules/guidelines. The purpose of which is to simplify the 'back-end' of the publishing process. The actual cost of publishing an article in Nature, Science, or other top-tier journal is rather small and the bulk of the money earned by these organizations goes to executives and shareholders in the publishing industry. It is ironic considering almost all of the actual science is paid for government funds or non-publishing industry and considering that the principal investigator (PI: lead scientist) is responsible for his own editing and typesetting. Since the PI spends so much of his time (or that of his post-docs or grad students) preparing the actual publication, the journal should be providing a share of the profits from each transaction to the PI or institution where the science was actually conducted (IMO).

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939841)

This is simply false. Apparently you've never published in a top Journal before. Please stop spreading your misinformation. Every paper in top journals goes through significant editing by the publishing staff. Just because you've never met these people doesn't mean we don't exist. Stop trying to marginalize people.

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

evilRhino (638506) | about 6 months ago | (#45940229)

There's actually no transparency to what the costs of publication actually are. I've accumulated some anecdotal evidence that many peer-reviewers are often volunteers that work for free. I have no doubt that the majority of the cost of this publication is absorbed by the PI and his institution.

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 6 months ago | (#45940325)

Believe me, I appreciate the efforts of professional editors, and I wish they weren't suffering such collateral damage from disintermediation. I greatly prefer reading professionally-edited material instead of the stuff 90% of scientists (and everyone else) write when left to their own devices.

However, I don't think that it raises the scientific value of journal articles enough to justify today's pricing trends -- and, more to the point, the information-blocking publishers do in an attempt to enforce those prices. I also don't think all the gamesmanship of breaking things into least-publishable-units, optimizing submission patterns by impact factor, and so forth serves the cause of science.

I value editors a lot. I think part of your marginalization arises from your employers' efforts to cling to outdated publishing models. I wish I had a solution.

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | about 6 months ago | (#45941021)

No it doesn't. I have had things published in these journals. We do most of the work, the rest is reviews and editors give a few comments etc. There is very little editing anymore these days.

Re:Real article behind paywall (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939837)

Maybe you should stop talking about what you obviously have no idea

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940329)

It raises the question, not begs.

Re:Real article behind paywall (1)

ClickOnThis (137803) | about 6 months ago | (#45941879)

So the article costs $32 to read. It begs the question, what are they hiding?

They're not hiding anything. They're just hoping non-coffee-drinkers forget they read the article, and purchase it several times over.

"I WILL have a third cup!" (4, Interesting)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 6 months ago | (#45938659)

It is always welcome news when something you already engage in is reported to have benefits.

Like the health benefits of a couple of alcoholic drinks, there will undoubtedly follow a recommended modest dose, beyond which the diminishing returns corollary overtakes any health benefits.

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (2)

Kongming (448396) | about 6 months ago | (#45939289)

Certainly; with a high enough dose, the subject would die.

That aside, the finding is interesting. Based on the summary, I thought that it might just be helping the subjects get closer to the ideal level of psychological arousal for what is probably a simple, routine, and possibly slightly boring task. However, the article states that the subjects were given the pills after having been shown the images, not before, in order to control for that possibility.

There is still one alternative explanation that I can see to a direct chemical effect of caffeine. For the subjects given caffeine after doing the first task in the experimental setting, an association was formed between the setting and getting caffeine. When the subjects returned to do a similar task in the experimental setting again, they received a slight boost in psychological arousal in anticipation of receiving the caffeine. (This kind of effect is commonly seen with many drugs, although I don't know if 200mg of caffeine would induce the effect with a single exposure.) The increased arousal during the follow-up task could explain the increased performance. If they wanted to control for it, one way would be to administer the follow-up task in a different environment than the one in which they did the first task, thereby reducing the impact of any associations with the original setting.

Re: "I WILL have a third cup!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940183)

So they could test for that with other stimulants and see if any others have a similar effect vs placebo.

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (1)

aviators99 (895782) | about 6 months ago | (#45939533)

"That's funny: rmdingler never has a third cup of coffee at home."

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (3, Funny)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 6 months ago | (#45940361)

I don't know how I remembered your Folger's reference as I don't think they showed it in the UK when I was a kid in the 70s. Must be the blood content in my caffeine stream.

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (1)

aviators99 (895782) | about 6 months ago | (#45940417)

Perhaps you remembered because they spoofed the commercial in the (epic) movie "Airplane!"

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 6 months ago | (#45940625)

Ahh - that'd be it. Thanks.

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 6 months ago | (#45939819)

Also keep in mind that as a nearly universal rule, nothing has completely good effects, and many effects on the brain are subtle. It's unlikely that there aren't long term effects of caffeine that you wouldn't like. Unknown long term negative effects aren't a reason anyone should stop drinking coffee of course, just saying lets not be shocked if researchers find out it, say, decreases your IQ in your senior years or something. It appears to DECREASE your chances of getting alzheimers, which is good, but it's clearly having some permanent effects on the brain. It can't be all beneficial.

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 6 months ago | (#45940435)

If there are significant negative effects of drinking coffee then I'd have thought we'd have found out about it by now. Coffee's been around for several hundred years so typical consumption most likely doesn't have bad effects that are easily noticeable.

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45941977)

If there are significant negative effects of drinking coffee then I'd have thought we'd have found out about it by now. Coffee's been around for several hundred years so typical consumption most likely doesn't have bad effects that are easily noticeable.

In order to find out about long term effects you need samples of people who were never exposed to it over their long lifetimes against who you can compare people from similar backgrounds who were.

Good luck finding people who are 60+ live in an industrialized nation and at no point in their life had a coffee/tea habit.

Re:"I WILL have a third cup!" (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 6 months ago | (#45942809)

If you go back a few hundred years, that'd be easy enough to find. Just a case of trawling through old birth/death rates to see if there's any correlation between when coffee was introduced to a village/society and their longevity.

Coffeine (4, Funny)

war4peace (1628283) | about 6 months ago | (#45938661)

As a heavy caffeine user, I confirm that... hmm... erm... what was I saying?

Re:Coffeine (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938913)

you should not introduce into your body anything that ends in "ine"

Re:Coffeine (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 6 months ago | (#45939155)

I don't think your message will be endorsed by the ASEV (American Society for Enology and Viticulture).

Re:Coffeine (1)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 6 months ago | (#45939471)

What an enlightened comment.

Re:Coffeine (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940511)

you should not introduce into your body anything that ends in "ine"

I guess that depends:
- guillotine <~~ bad
- gasoline <~~ bad
- Listerine <~~ Oh, sorry
- Dateline <~~ bad
- Trampoline <~~ Fun!

For more 'ends in "ine"' options just look here [scrabblefinder.com]

Re:Coffeine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940641)

Listerine is a poison; it says not to swallow in the directions. Also, introducing a trampoline into your body is NOT fun.

Re:Coffeine (3, Informative)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 6 months ago | (#45940675)

You left out the obvious "wine".

Re:Coffeine (2)

lxs (131946) | about 6 months ago | (#45941069)

Thanks. I was about to swallow a landmine.

Re:Coffeine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938915)

As a heavy caffeine user, I confirm that... hmm... erm... what was I saying?

Caffeine, not cocaine.

Re:Coffeine (2)

daem0n1x (748565) | about 6 months ago | (#45939037)

You shouldn't season you coffee with pot.

Re:Coffeine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939133)

They said LONG term memory, not SHORT, you insensitive clods! War4peace will remember the way you guys made fun of him for many years to come!

Re:Coffeine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45941083)

Nonsense. Canna-sugar and coffee go great together, and the coffee should help with the memory loss of the pot, while the pot helps fight off cancer. Better alternative than whiskey anyway (but adding both will undoubtedly make for a more interesting day...)

Re:Coffeine (1)

Karl Cocknozzle (514413) | about 6 months ago | (#45940283)

As a heavy caffeine user, I confirm that... hmm... erm... what was I saying?

Also, is the memory improvement from coffee powerful enough to overcome the damage done by all the weed I smoke?

Re:Coffeine (2)

phoenix_rizzen (256998) | about 6 months ago | (#45940739)

Come back tomorrow and you'll remember!

Re:Coffeine (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 6 months ago | (#45943205)

When?

I hearby coin the phrase (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938663)

COSMIC SIZE

unable to rermember genuine history events (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938677)

our hardwired religious abuse fairytail history & heritage will have to do? read the teepeeleaks etchings or the catcher in the rye...

Re:unable to rermember genuine history events (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938947)

our hardwired religious abuse fairytail history & heritage will have to do?

Ever notice the similarities between evangelical Christians and evangelical athiests? Neither drawer's knives are very sharp (and as Pratchett says, they may even be spoons).

Re:unable to rermember genuine history events (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940277)

You sound religious.

Re:unable to rermember genuine history events (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 6 months ago | (#45940531)

How can an atheist be evangelical? (Unless they're hypocrites - preaching Christianity without believing in it).

(Or, alternatively, what does athiest mean?)

Re:unable to rermember genuine history events (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940611)

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/atheists.png
"Personally, I find atheists just as annoying as fundamentalist christians."
"Well, the important thing is that you've found a way to feel superior to both."

24 hours is long term? (4, Funny)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | about 6 months ago | (#45938757)

What, we're hiring scientists with severe ADHD now???

Re:24 hours is long term? (3, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | about 6 months ago | (#45939087)

Yes, the long-term memory system is used for everything older than a few minutes. They're different functional units of the brain. Maybe if you had a longer attention span you could've looked up what "long-term memory" means and figured that out for yourself? Maybe learned something?

Re:24 hours is long term? (5, Funny)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | about 6 months ago | (#45939583)

What are you talking about again?

Re:24 hours is long term? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 6 months ago | (#45939755)

I misread the tone of your post, I assumed it was one of those "I can't believe that 24 hours is considered a long time in today's society" remarks and not a joke.

Re:24 hours is long term? (1)

paxcoder (1222556) | about 6 months ago | (#45940209)

I don't understand this joke.

Raktajino (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938769)

Raktajino helps me remember Trek trivia.

Re:Raktajino (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939889)

Pfft, raktajino is a p'tahk drink. Prune Juice! Now *that's* the drink of a warrior.

Re:Raktajino (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45941231)

Pfft, raktajino is a p'tahk drink. Prune Juice! Now *that's* the drink of a warrior.

Raktajino before battle. Prune juice after battle.

NEVER invert this. Trust me.

The detrimental effects for sleep thwart it for me (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 6 months ago | (#45938787)

Cool story bro. However I have completely stopped consuming caffeine. I have noticed that even a cup or two of coffee rather early at day, do have some effect on my sleep. Maybe I have become somehow super sensitive to the effects of caffeine (I do not feel much buzz anymore though). But then again, when you look at the half-life of caffeine, it is something like 5+ hours depending on the person. This would suggest that it takes over a whole day for the caffeine to completely be metabolized, no matter what.

Re:The detrimental effects for sleep thwart it for (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 6 months ago | (#45938875)

Considering the demographics on slashdot, I'm going to take a shot in the dark: caffeine and other stimulants have been noted to have uncommon side-effects in ADHD diagnosed population. Could that be you?

Re:The detrimental effects for sleep thwart it for (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939675)

Seeing as how I was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, I can certainly say that Caffeine and many other stimulants tend to work bass-ackwards on me by putting me to sleep.

For those interested, look up how/what Ritalin is and what it was approved for, which isn't ADHD

Re:The detrimental effects for sleep thwart it for (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 6 months ago | (#45938993)

I assume that means that you've cut out caffeine from other sources as well? (Soft drinks, teas, various foods.)

I know someone that can't drink a Coke after 4-5:00 PM or he has trouble getting to sleep.

Re:The detrimental effects for sleep thwart it for (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 6 months ago | (#45939699)

I assume that means that you've cut out caffeine from other sources as well? (Soft drinks, teas, various foods.)

Sure.

Re:The detrimental effects for sleep thwart it for (2)

NewWorldDan (899800) | about 6 months ago | (#45940179)

Sleep? Nah. But caffeine is also one of the leading causes of diarrhea. So I'm off the stuff. Too bad, a cup of coffee or tea was a nice way to start the day.

Scientific Proof (1, Funny)

cloud.pt (3412475) | about 6 months ago | (#45938861)

We are the biped evolution of bees. It's a fact now

Re:Scientific Proof (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45938959)

We are the biped evolution of bees. It's a fact now

Buzz off with your crazy theories!

just don't drink too much (1)

alen (225700) | about 6 months ago | (#45938877)

i've found that if i drink the supersize starbucks coffees its the opposite effect. the small size coffees are just right

Memorizing vs Recollection (5, Interesting)

baffled (1034554) | about 6 months ago | (#45938967)

The experiment used caffeine during memorization. Does caffeine have any relative effect on recollection?

Re:Memorizing vs Recollection (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939393)

The experiment used caffeine during memorization. Does caffeine have any relative effect on recollection?

I can't remember, I haven't had my coffee yet. ...

Wait, what were we talking about again?

Re:Memorizing vs Recollection (3, Informative)

TAiNiUM (66843) | about 6 months ago | (#45939757)

No, it does not help recollection. It helps to form and store the information.

ie, drink cafeine when you study to store the information. Drinking caffeine during the test won't increase recollection though it will help focus.

Dear coffee drinkers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939071)

Suck my caffeinated cock. At least this study shows you will remember to swallow my load

Re:Dear coffee drinkers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940047)

Sorry, let's just say your pull is a little short for my taste.

Not surprised (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 6 months ago | (#45939365)

To me caffeine feels like the brain running on overclock, sure it's faster and better at almost anything but afterwards you're dog tired and overall you get less done in total. Still good for the times when performance right now is what matters, for example we used to have these marathon exams of up to 6 hours. Three hours in and head is getting heavy, take a Red Bull and you're good for another three hours. It'd always be a short evening but totally worth it. Same if the party is now, stay awake here and now and catch up on sleep tomorrow.

Re:Not surprised (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 6 months ago | (#45939561)

I find low and regular doses of caffeine to be much more effective than single, high doses. I have a half-litre thermos full of filter coffee which gives me about 50mg of caffeine four times a day. (And because I don't crash or get insomnia, I'm not going out and buying a second or third Red Bull to keep me going.) There seems to be good evidence that low doses of caffeine are effective as performance enhancers, without having particularly serious side-effects. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691502000960 [sciencedirect.com]

Parts of the brain (5, Funny)

tomhath (637240) | about 6 months ago | (#45939387)

The memory center in the human brain is the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area in the medial temporal lobe of the brain.

Then why don't they call it the seahorsecampus? These guys make everything so difficult.

Re:Parts of the brain (2)

rollingcalf (605357) | about 6 months ago | (#45939759)

>Then why don't they call it the seahorsecampus? These guys make everything so difficult.

Hippocampus is derived from the Greek words hippos (horse) and kampos (sea monster).

Re:Parts of the brain (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 6 months ago | (#45941125)

I used to think there is some connection between "campus" as a place of learning and the human memory managemet unit, but I'm not so sure any more...

Re:Parts of the brain (0)

jones_supa (887896) | about 6 months ago | (#45939843)

Obligatory [elfwood.com] ...

My wife proposes the theory that it ... (2)

PseudoCoder (1642383) | about 6 months ago | (#45939497)

destroyed my short term memory. I can't even remember where I put my cup.

Re:My wife proposes the theory that it ... (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 6 months ago | (#45940953)

I'm going to guess it's between 30 and 36 inches away from you, between 15 and 75 degrees from straight ahead. Clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on your handedness.

Re:My wife proposes the theory that it ... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 6 months ago | (#45941183)

I can't even remember where I put my cup.

That's because you're married, and since you know for certain that she's going to move the damned thing there's no point in making the effort to remember.

How about caffeine & sleep depravation? (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 6 months ago | (#45939499)

For example, does the caffeine whole trying to do last-minute cramming for finals overcome losing so much sleep for so many hours?

And are there implications for PTSD? (if remember things better, could that increase the chances of PTSD?)

mod dO3n (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45939567)

Same old... (3, Informative)

ccanucs (2529272) | about 6 months ago | (#45939613)

Coffee's bad for you ....

Coffee's good for you ....

Coffee's bad for you ....

Coffee's good for you ....

Same old.... (as far as I recall :-) )

Re:Same old... (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 6 months ago | (#45939883)

Vividly remembering a tragic incident isn't always a good thing.

Good and bad has everything to do with what pathways are being activated, for how long, and what the side effects are. Good and bad should not be judged simply on the final result.

Re:Same old... (1)

ccanucs (2529272) | about 6 months ago | (#45940089)

Uh.....

Huh?

I was merely commenting on the fact that the common fad is to say "this is bad for you" then - a few weeks later - "this is good for you".

You were overthinking what I wrote :-)

Memorization, or attention to detail? (5, Informative)

LeDopore (898286) | about 6 months ago | (#45939903)

I have a PhD in sensory neuroscience from UC Berkeley. It could be the effect mentioned in TFA is sensory, not memorization.

Caffeine is known to increase acetylcholine release. Acetylcholine makes your brain pay more attention to here-and-now details than to its internal model of what's going on.

I'm also dubious about the idea that any one, simple chemical can ever make you smarter in any general way without adverse consequences. Evolution has a lot of time to scope out all simple neurochemical effects, so beware studies that suggest they've found a "smart pill". Sure, it's possible to take a drug to make you better at one specific task to the detriment of some others, but the idea that there is any simple cognitive enhancing substance would imply either "evolution couldn't mimic the effect of this substance on the brain" or "cognitive enhancement isn't an evolutionary good move". Neither seems very likely.

Re:Memorization, or attention to detail? (4, Insightful)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 6 months ago | (#45940173)

Evolution has a lot of time to scope out all simple neurochemical effects, so beware studies that suggest they've found a "smart pill". Sure, it's possible to take a drug to make you better at one specific task to the detriment of some others, but the idea that there is any simple cognitive enhancing substance would imply either "evolution couldn't mimic the effect of this substance on the brain" or "cognitive enhancement isn't an evolutionary good move". Neither seems very likely.

I'm not seeing the evidence for strong forces selecting for better cognitive performance. It seems like there are a lot of evolutionary niches where brain-power loses out to other specializations.

Suppose there's a substance that improves overall cognitive processing, but at a metabolic cost that requires 30% more caloric intake? Or suppose it interferes with efficient storage of fat? Either of those would be a deleterious trait in pre-modern populations.

Suppose it improves cognitive processing, but reduces fertility by 50%? Again, it would be bred out rapidly.

Many of the constraints that guided our evolutionary history no longer apply. I don't expect a miracle pill, either, but saying "if cognitive enhancers existed we'd already have evolved to produce them" seems kind of disingenuous.

Re:Memorization, or attention to detail? (1)

Kielistic (1273232) | about 6 months ago | (#45940197)

Using more energy and producing more heat could both be side effects that are evolutionarily disadvantageous but are not much of a problem in modern society.

Re:Memorization, or attention to detail? (1)

ninjabus (3024459) | about 6 months ago | (#45940349)

I wouldn't be too surprised. Evolution as a tuning process is very effective, but it has issues about getting stuck in just-effective-enough configurations. We evolved to be fairly intelligent, but the body is clearly programmed for using less food energy than is currently available in modern times. There has been some speculative research linking the domestication of fire to increased brain mass. This isn't because larger brains meant we were smart enough to figure out fire, but instead because fire allowed us to digest more foods efficiently, increasing the nutrients our brains could use. Modern agriculture is another jump in nutritional availability, but our bodies haven't adapted to this yet. There could potentially be an extremely effective but inefficient neurochecmical pathway which evolution discarded because conserving energy was the strongest selective pressure, and the alternatives were simply good enough.

Re:Memorization, or attention to detail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45940583)

I'm also dubious about the idea that any one, simple chemical can ever make you smarter in any general way without adverse consequences.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but "boost[ing] long-term memory" is not quite the same thing as "make[ing] you smarter".

Re:Memorization, or attention to detail? (1)

lpevey (115393) | about 6 months ago | (#45940859)

I'm also dubious about the idea that any one, simple chemical can ever make you smarter in any general way without adverse consequences. Evolution has a lot of time to scope out all simple neurochemical effects, so beware studies that suggest they've found a "smart pill".

I think this is a very wise statement. In this case, caffeine is known to increase levels of stress hormones. Many studies have shown that memories during times of stress tend to be more vivid and enduring. (The extreme of this is PTSD.) So the study results are not at all surprising to me. I think more work would have to be done to tease out whether there is any independent effect.

Re:Memorization, or attention to detail? (2)

Thomas Miconi (85282) | about 6 months ago | (#45941969)

Did you miss the "post-study" bit in the title and abstract? Caffeine was delivered after stimulus presentation, excluding a purely sensory effect.

I guess you could do with a cup of coffee! ;)

At last, a cure for Slashdot dupes? (1)

ClickOnThis (137803) | about 6 months ago | (#45941895)

Well, we can hope. Drink up, editors!

Mentat drink (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 6 months ago | (#45943009)

The lips carry a stain, the breath is of a dragon, The breath is a warning.

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