Caffeine May Enhance Memory

01/13/2014 11:01am ET | Updated January 23, 2014

Caffeine doesn't just give you energy -- a new study suggests that it could help you remember things better, too.

The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience shows that people who were unaccustomed to consuming caffeine, but took 200 milligrams of caffeine in the form of a pill (about as much caffeine as is in two cups of coffee) did better on a memory test a day later, compared with people given placebo pills.

The study's participants, who were not regular caffeine-consumers, looked at a number of images before being randomly assigned to receive either the caffeine pills or the placebo pills. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University took salivary samples from the participants before they took the caffeine pills, and then one, three and 24 hours after taking the caffeine pills to monitor caffeine levels.

Then, the next day, researchers showed the participants a series of images again. The catch: While some of the images were the same, there were some new images thrown into the mix that were similar to the previous day's images, but were in fact different.

Researchers found that the study participants who took the caffeine pills were better able to identify that the similar images were different from the images viewed the day before -- an ability called pattern separation.

"If we used a standard recognition memory task without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of caffeine," study researcher Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the university, said in a statement. "However, using these items requires the brain to make a more difficult discrimination -- what we call pattern separation, which seems to be the process that is enhanced by caffeine in our case."

Yassa also pointed out to BBC News that the study does not imply that people should go out and consume copious amounts of caffeine. Indeed, consuming too much caffeine can lead to anxiety or other risks for some people.

"Everything in moderation. Our study suggests that 200mg of coffee is beneficial to those who do not regularly ingest caffeine," Yassa told BBC News. "But we also show an inverted U-shape dose response suggesting that higher doses may not be as beneficial.