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Coffee & Health
Neurodegenerative disorders

Caffeine and opening the eyes have additive effects on resting arousal measures

R J Barry et al. (2011)
Clinical Neurophysiology, published online ahead of print
April 12, 2011


Studies indicate that the change from closed to open eyes in a resting condition results in an increase in skin conductance level (SCL) and a global decrease in EEG alpha activity, both indicative of increased arousal. Other studies show that ingestion of caffeine also produces SCL increase and alpha reduction. This study investigated the additivity of the effects of these two independent arousing variables.


EEG activity and SCL were recorded from 22 university students during both eyes-closed and eyes-open resting conditions, under the action of both caffeine and placebo, in a counterbalanced randomised double-blind study.


SCL increased significantly from eyes-closed to eyes-open conditions, and from placebo to caffeine, with no interaction. Global reductions in EEG alpha amplitude were apparent with opening of the eyes and caffeine ingestion; again, there was no interaction. Caffeine had a larger effect than opening the eyes on SCL, but their relative effect sizes were reversed in alpha. The two dependent measures showed the predicted negative correlation in both eyes-closed placebo and eyes-open caffeine conditions, with the latter substantially reduced relative to the former.


Caffeine and opening the eyes have additive effects on two measures of arousal, increasing SCL and reducing global EEG alpha. However, the independent variable effects are not equivalent, suggesting that one or both measures reflect additional non-arousal processes.


As caffeine is widely used by both children and adults, knowledge of the additivity of arousal effects of caffeine and opening the eyes is important in controlling participant state in EEG studies. The current results confirm the use of mean global alpha amplitude as a measure of resting-state arousal, but also point to non-arousal effects of visual input.

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