Can a cup of coffee help you while learning a new task? Yes—if you drink it afterwards.
According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, coffee’s reputation as a study aid is deserved, but timing plays a role too. Researchers had 160 healthy young adults complete a learning task, which involved looking at pictures on cards and classifying the items pictured as either “indoor” or “outdoor” items; i.e., a duck is an outdoor thing, and a TV is an indoor item. Half were then given a caffeine pill, and half given a placebo.
Twenty-four hours later, the participants were given another pile of cards. Some of the cards were from the day’s previous task, but others were not—but they were similar to the previous day’s cards. Participants then had to separate the old cards from the new. The group of participants given the caffeine ended up performing much better on the task than the group given the placebo. Another test had participants given caffeine prior to the second task, but this did not help.
So, go ahead and have that cup of coffee—but if you’re planning on learning something, maybe enjoy it afterwards.