The Effects of Caffeine on Concentration

Coffee with cinnamon roll
A cup of black coffee on a wooden table. (Image: -lvinst-/iStock/Getty Images)

Caffeine is a mild stimulant found not only in coffee but in at least 63 plant species and in pain relievers, diuretics and prescription medications. Because, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, it is often viewed as a helpful stimulant, thought to increase brain functioning. Research has shown that it affects the specific areas of the brain responsible for memory and concentration.

Effects on the Brain

In a 2005 study by Florian Koppelstätter and colleagues at the Medical University at Innsbruck, Austria, fMRI scans determined that caffeine promoted increased activity of the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. These specific areas are involved in planning, attention, monitoring and concentration, according to this study which was presented at the 2005 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Although caffeine has been shown to stimulate concentration, there is inconclusive evidence of how long this effect lasts or precisely how it varies in individuals.

Effects on Children's Concentration

Caffeine has been studied as fulfilling a possible role in calming children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. These children suffer from symptoms of inattention and impulsivity that hinder their ability to concentrate. Although caffeine is a stimulant, there are reports that certain individuals are already using it to medicate ADHD in their children or themselves. In these individuals caffeine has the opposite effect it has on most people. Rather than causing them to be more active, caffeine appears to have a calming effect, helping them concentrate and focus, and even sleep well.

A study published in the December 2005 issue of "The Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology" reports that a dose of caffeine significantly aided hyperactive rats to learn a maze faster than control rats. Although ADHD symptoms such as poor concentration may be reversed in children through caffeine therapy, these results are inconclusive and not yet validated by scientific studies on children. Do not attempt to use caffeine to treat ADHD in children without the advice of your pediatrician.

Because high doses of caffeine are found in beverages that children drink, such as sodas, ice teas, cocoa and also in cough medicines, there is evidence that excessive caffeine intake in children who become addicted to caffeine may result in poor digestion, headaches, poor memory, anxiety attacks and a lack of concentration. The same amount of caffeine will cause a quicker and stronger reaction in a child compared with an adult.

Effects on Athletes' Concentration

B. Sökmen, L.E.Armstrong and colleagues reported in the “Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research” in 2008 research on the cognitive effects of caffeine on athletes. They found that caffeine taken before a strenuous training exercise can help sustain exercise intensity and also improve concentration, in particular when the athlete has not had sufficient sleep. This was especially true if the caffeine was taken gradually in small doses over a period of three or four days.

Caffeine has also been found to play a role in greater concentration in rifle marksmanship and target detection during simulated combat practice in the military, indicating caffeine can increase concentration to cope with stressful activities.

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