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The role of caffeine in learning

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The role of caffeine in learning

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Caffeine is almost an ever present factor in the modern workplace, as employees fuel their workday with a mixture of teas and coffees.  The impact of caffeine on performance however is really quite interesting.

I wrote last year about some research looking at the role caffeine plays in our creativity.  The research explains that caffeine blocks the adenosine chemical inside the brain.  Adenosine acts to inhibit various chemicals within the brain, often therefore reducing our energy levels and helping us get to sleep.  So how does this affect our creativity?  Well it also affects our minds ability to wander.

This wandering is seen as a critical part of the creative process, as our best ideas often come when our mind has a degree of freedom to roam where it pleases.  Of course, having that level of focus is not detrimental to all tasks in the workplace.

Take learning for instance.  The popular perception is that the focus provided by caffeine helps us to learn new things.  Except new research suggests that may not be the case, or at least that timing plays a significant role in our ability to absorb information.

The research saw participants perform a series of learning tasks, with a mixture of caffeine tablets and placebo tablets given to them after completion.  The participants were then tested after 24 hours to see how much they had absorbed, alongside some new items to learn.

It seemed that those participants that had taken caffeine after the original task did better at the subsequent task.  The researchers then wanted to explore whether caffeine was boosting memory retrieval or memory consolidation, so they gave participants in a second study the caffeine before they conducted their test.

This time however, the caffeine had no impact at all, with performances after 24 hours no different to those given the placebo.  All of which is rather interesting.

Suffice to say, the results are far from conclusive and more research is needed before any strong advice can be given either way, but with the average Brit/American consuming around three cups of coffee per day, it might be worth conducting some experiments of your own on your learning and creative performance with and without caffeine.

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