Energy Drinks Seemingly No More Effective Than Most Caffeinated Beverages

Jul 9, 2013

Like all good science, Katie Ann Skogsberg’s research grew from a simple question.  Actually, the question was asked by her husband. “The way the whole thing started is my husband saw them in the grocery store line and said `I wonder if those little things really work,’ and I said `Well I can test it,” said Skogsberg.

Researchers at Centre College believe the relative effectiveness of 5-Hour Energy is the same as most caffeinated drinks.

Instead of experimenting on her spouse, Skogsberg and five research assistants attached sensors to the heads of sixty students at Centre College.

When we learn something, the professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience says our brains emit a wave known as a P-3.  P-3 brainwaves indicate the scales have fallen from our eyes and we’ve learned something.  That experience can be measured by the sensors on an EEG machine.

“What we did was we used what’s an electroencephalograph or an EEG and we recorded the patterns of brain activity,” said Skogsberg.

Just ensure objectivity, while some students consumed a "5 Hour Energy" drink, others drank flavored drinks that were either caffeinated or non-caffeinated.  Plus, neither the student-subjects nor the researchers knew who got the real stuff and who didn’t.  When they compared the results, she says there was no difference between the '5 Hour Energy' drink and the caffeinated beverage…

“The participants who had received the caffeine and the caffeine plus the energy blend, they had a larger and a faster P-3 wave, so it came earlier and it had a higher amplitude, suggesting they were more alert and better at detecting that particular stimulus. However, the caffeine group and the caffeine-plus-energy-blend-group didn’t show any difference from each other,” said Skogsberg.

Skogsberg and her students presented their findings during the annual meeting of the Association of Psychological Science.  Next they must confirm their findings with another experiment, perhaps with a larger group of students.  Then a scientific journal must examine their methods and conclude they’re valid.  Only then will it be published so other scientists can re-examine and build on her work.

”We’re still working on that.  In fact, we’re working on the manuscript for that right now.  But, it’s taken us two years to actually get to this point.  So, it will probably be another year or so before we can actually confirm or be 100% sure of our findings,” said Skogsberg.

And like all good science, Skogsberg’s initial study raises more questions than it answers.  For example, she doesn’t know whether other energy drinks might work better, or whether every age group reacts the same.  Those answers may come in future studies.