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Effects of caffeine on reading performance on the Visagraph2

1 May 2005


Caffeine is a drug that "wakes people up" and stimulates the central nervous system. It is frequently found in many beverages and other consumed products. It also comes as an over-the-counter supplement. Since it is so common and gets used to help people stay awake during reading tasks, we wanted to see what effect it has on comprehension, attention and eye movements when reading. To do this we screened 27 optometry students for health problems and tested them twice on the Visagraph2, an instrument that objectively monitors eye movements and tests comprehension of material read. Tests were conducted when subjects had no caffeine in their system and when caffeine was at its highest concentration in their blood. Some started on caffeine and others did not in an attempt to limit a learning affect. In an analysis of our data, we found better performance when not on caffeine that was statistically significant in the number of fixations, regressions and percent of directional attack. Span of recognition, comprehension, rate with comprehension and grade level efficiency were also better when not on caffeine, but they were not statistically significant. Reading rate without comprehension was slower and the average duration of fixation was longer when not on caffeine. However, since comprehension was better and their were fewer fixations when not on caffeine it can be concluded that caffeine made reading more erratic and less efficient. In short, not using caffeine makes reading more efficient and improves comprehension. Using caffeine makes reading quicker, but less efficient and decreases comprehension. This means that caffeine keeps the mind and body "awake," but may not make you a better reader.


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