R K Cooper et al, 2020. Caffeine Enhances Sustained Attention Among Adolescents, Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, published online.

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ABSTRACT

Despite the growing interest in caffeine use and its effects among adolescents, and a large literature on caffeine and attention among adults, there is a lack of experimental work examining the impact of caffeine on sustained attention among adolescents. We evaluated the acute effects of caffeine (vs. placebo) during a long (33-min) classic vigilance task among 31 adolescents (aged 12-17; 15 female; median caffeine use = 28 mg/day). We predicted a dose-dependent effect of caffeine, which would attenuate declines in target detection over time (i.e., a vigilance decrement). In each of 3 visits, participants completed an identical pairs continuous performance task beginning ∼25 min after consumption of noncaloric flavored water containing placebo, 1 mg/kg, or 3 mg/kg caffeine (order counterbalanced). Percent hits for low probability targets across 12 100-trial blocks was the primary outcome measure. As predicted, the linear decline in hits across trial blocks was attenuated by caffeine (Caffeine vs. Placebo × Block Linear, p = .01), with significant improvements in Blocks 9-12 (ps < .03). Compared to 1 mg/kg, 3 mg/kg caffeine resulted in earlier improvement in target detection (Drug Dose × Block Quadratic, p = .001). This study demonstrated that caffeine acutely and dose-dependently improves sustained attention among adolescents. These results were likely due to the attention-enhancing effect of caffeine, rather than withdrawal reversal, as our sample was characterized by light to moderate caffeine use. This study provides the foundation for further work on the impact of chronic caffeine consumption on cognitive function during adolescence.

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