Coffee and chocolate are two widely beloved, delicious delicacies. Often thought to be unhealthy, these two flavor powerhouses may in fact have benefits to attention, motivation and energy. Researchers at Clarkson University and the University of Georgia recently completed a year long study about the effects of caffeine and cocoa on attention and motivation to perform cognitive work.
The study also studied the feelings of anxiety, energy and fatigue. What they found essentially tells us that, when combined, coffee and cocoa work wonders on a person’s ability to focus.
The study was randomized, double-blinded and extensively controlled. The researchers broke the subjects up into four groups: one with caffeine and cocoa, one with just cocoa, one with just caffeine and one with neither. All of these were flavored and colored to appear and taste the same to the consumer.
Giving the drink to participants at least two days apart at around the same time of day allowed the researchers to control variables such as lasting effects of the drinks or how awake a participant was during the day. The participants were also tested once before and multiple times after on their ability to perform one task, ability to multitask and on their mood, motivation and attention.
The study was led by Ali Boolani, a Clarkson University researcher. His initial reasoning for doing the study was based on his initial knowledge of both caffeine and cocoa.
Caffeine is known to increase anxiety, while cocoa can improve awareness and cognition by boosting cerebral blood flow. But together, cocoa will decrease caffeine’s anxiety producing effects, meaning all that remains is increased attention, cognition and focus. He hoped this research would find more ideal ways for students, researchers or anyone to study for longer periods of time while being more focused.
Participants were tested on these traits through three main methods. The first had the subjects watch letters appear on a screen. They were told to make a note of any time an A appeared after an X.
They were also asked to perform subtraction calculations, watch numbers flash on a screen and again make a note of when odd numbers appeared in sequence.
While participants on cocoa alone and caffeine alone each had their own benefits, overall the subjects performed the best when under the effect of both.
Although this study attempted to control as many reasonable factors as it could, things like sleep and diet could significantly have affected the results of this study. Both sleep and diet are well known to have an effect on mood, focus and awareness — major variables this study was testing. But it seems that the results of the study still proved the hypothesis of Ali Boolani and showed promising results.
“The results of the tests are definitely promising and show that cocoa and caffeine are good choices for students and anyone else who needs to improve sustained attention,” Boolani said in a press release.
Cocoa not only heightens focus, but also contains antioxidants to fight free radicals, which contribute to cancer. The cardiology department at a German university also found that cocoa in dark chocolate may improve blood pressure.
While all these health benefits stem from cocoa, Boolani is looking to do more research into the relationship between cocoa and caffeine to see exactly what components work together to benefit health.
“I’ll be doing some related and follow-up studies at Clarkson to look at differences in natural vs. synthetic caffeine and other cocoa studies,” Boolani said.