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Coffee gives an extra boost!

19 January 2021
Cup of coffee

People perform better if there is a prospect of gaining a reward. If they drink coffee as well, the stimulating effect of caffeine gives an extra boost to their attentional processes. Researchers from the University of Groningen published an article on this topic in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Better performance

We perform even better after a cup of coffee, even if we already do our best to gain a reward (in this study a small monetary reward). If there is no prospect of gaining a reward, coffee does not provide this additional advantage. Apparently, we do not waste any attention if it is not necessary. The results of this research offer a unique insight into the combination of caffeine and the prospect of a reward. Together, caffeine and rewards, can ensure that we process important information in the world around us better and, as a result, perform better.


The researchers were able to examine brain processes related to attention with a millisecond accuracy, after the participants had consumed a cup of coffee either with or without caffeine. Brain activity was recorded using electroencephalography, while the participants carried out mental tasks. With the prospect of gaining a reward, the participants reacted faster and more accurately to the task – but they performed even better if they consumed a cup of caffeinated coffee. These findings did not apply in the case of decaffeinated coffee. Tea, which also contains caffeine, might have similar effects, however, this was not part of the current study.

Stimulating and selective effect

The simulating effect of caffeine is well known. People respond faster and more accurately after drinking coffee. This effect is already present when consuming the amount of caffeine in just half a cup of coffee. This research, however, shows that in addition to this general effect, caffeine also has a selective effect, depending on the relevance of the situation. If you are more alert, you are better able to perceive information from your environment, but this also leads to more incoming irrelevant information that might be distractive. In traffic situations, for example, traffic signs on the driver’s side of the road are important – but the signs on the other side of the road are not. If your attention is better focussed on relevant information, then distraction is smaller.

Further information: Monicque Lorist and Berry van den Berg.

Last modified:04 December 2023 1.24 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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