Caffeine helps your memory

Caffeine is the energy boost of choice for millions who consume it to wake up or stay up. Now, UC Irvine neurobiologist Michael Yassa has found another use for the stimulant: memory enhancer.

Michael Yassa, assistant professor of neurobiology & behavior, and his team of scientists found that caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory in humans.

“We’ve always known that caffeine has cognitive enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans,” Yassa said. “We report for the first time a specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting over 24 hours.”

The researchers conducted a double-blind trial in which participants who did not regularly eat or drink caffeinated products received either a placebo or a 200 milligrams caffeine tablet five minutes after studying a series of images. Saliva samples were taken from the participants before ingesting caffeine, and one, three and 24 hours afterwards to check for increased caffeine levels.

The next day, both groups were tested on their ability to recognize images from the previous day’s study session. On the test, some of the visuals were the same as from the day before, some were new additions and some were similar but not the same as the items previously viewed. Researchers say more participants in the caffeine group were able to correctly identify the new images as “similar” to previously viewed images versus erroneously citing them as the same.

The brain’s ability to recognize the difference between two similar but not identical items, called pattern separation, reflects a deeper level of memory retention, the researchers said.

“If we used a standard recognition memory task without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of caffeine,” Yassa said. “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.”

[Image via yourcoffeeguru]

Read the rest of the most discussed UC research of 2014 →

While I pretty much only dance at wedding receptions, it’s always been a dream of mine to be able to really cut a rug; however, where to begin? Enter Thomas E. Parson’s “Popular Ballrooms Dances for all.” A guide to help anyone learn how to dance. Sounds great, right? Maybe it’s my 21st century mind or maybe I’m just spatially challenged, but I’d have a real hard time learning how to dance by looking at those static little feet and arrow. Thankfully, we can now make those feet step lively and show us how to get our Foxtrot going.

Lack of sleep contributes to false memories

If coffee improves memory, lack of sleep seems to erode it. UC Irvine researchers showed study participants a series of images depicting a burglary in progress and asked them to remember key details 24 hours later. Participants who’d had a good night’s sleep had better recall of the events, while those who had pulled all-nighters or slept for just a few hours were more likely to misremember and even invent details.

"Sometimes memory distortions are trivial and don’t matter, but there are contexts (e.g., eyewitnesses in court, clinicians making medical decisions) where errors have serious consequences, so we need to be concerned about factors that make memory less reliable, and more vulnerable to distortion," said lead researcher Steven Frenda, who specializes in human memory at the department of Psychology and Social Behavior at UC Irvine.

The most talked about UC research from 2014 →

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A COMPLETE GUIDE TO ALL THE SCHOOLS IN THE UC SYSTEM.

Have you ever wondered about the UC schools? How are they different? 

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Clearly our student assistant forgot how calendars work because she didn’t realize that February would be over by the time she got back to work on Monday. Her bad. But that isn’t gonna keep her from sharing one last bit of history. So, here is another piece from our collection about black history. This is a collection of poetry from black poets and is another example of people that are probably way cooler than our student assistant.

Black poets write on! An anthology of Black Philadelphian poets. 1970.

Chemists find a way to unboil eggs

It has often been said that you can’t unscramble an egg. But you might be able to unboil one.

When you boil an egg, the heat causes the proteins inside the egg white to tangle and clump together, solidifying it. New research published in ChemBioChem by scientists at UC Irvine shows how they can essentially reverse the clumping process by adding chemicals to a cooked egg.

“Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,” UCI biochemist Gregory Weisssaid in a statement. “In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold.”

But unboiling eggs isn’t the main focus for the researchers. “The real problem is there are lots of cases of gummy proteins that you spend way too much time scraping off your test tubes, and you want some means of recovering that material,” Weiss said.

The innovation could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry.

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