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Caffeine Helps People Process Positive Words Faster

Drinking two or three cups of coffee per day helps your brain process positive words more quickly, according to new research

--by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Those who drink coffee are likely to feel increased energy and alertness after consuming the drink, but new research shows that those who drink two to three cups of coffee per day are also more likely to process "positive" words faster—that is, words with positive emotional associations, as opposed to negative or neutral ones.

The study authors indicate that these effects of caffeine are likely caused by its association with the brain chemical dopamine. The research was released today in PLOS One, and was conducted by German researcher Lars Kuchinke of Ruhr University in Buchum, Germany.

The Expert Take

"The availability of dopamine—if the link between caffeine and dopamine is correct—would generally enhance processing by hastening the decision-making process, but because of the link of these three systems (language, dopamine, positivity processing), postive words specifically benefit from the caffeine intake," explains Kuchinke.

Dopamine in the brain is responsible for happy, positive emotions, and Kuchinke thinks that because caffeine induces a dopamine response, exposure to words that illicit a happy, dopamine-filled reaction in the brain results in an accelerated word-processing response when a person has had caffeine.

"Further research is needed to draw a direct link between positive information, dopamine, and the left brain hemisphere (and decision making), but if it exists, it could probably explain older hypotheses on the functioning of the emotional brain systems," said Kuchinke.

The Takeaway

When you consume two or three cups of coffee per day, you are more likely to process positive words faster, but not negative or neutral words. So when you see or hear good news after drinking coffee, your brain actually works faster!

Source and Method

66 participants ages 19 to 32 were given either caffeine or a placebo, shown positive and negative words, and then asked to report their arousal levels. "The enhancement effect of caffeine in word recognition is restricted to a facilitated processing of positive items [in the left hemisphere of the brain]," the study says. "This result points to a dopaminergic explanation of the left hemisphere advantage of positive stimuli in word processing."

Other Research

Previous studies have looked extensively at the effects of caffeine on cognitive function. A 2010 study published in Nutrition concludes after an extensive literature survey that a moderate amount of caffeine intake increases energy, decreases fatigue, enhances physical performance, quickens reactions, enhances cognitive function, increases the accuracy of reactions, and enhances concentration and short-term memory, among a host of other outcomes.

A 2011 study appearing in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior indicates that caffeine consumption influences how people process information and learning in new environments. And studies from Bucks New University and Georgia Tech indicate that caffeine consumption enhances adaptivity in environments where the fight or flight response is elicited, and that it improves performance of complex cognitive tasks.

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Tags: Latest Studies & Research , Drugs

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