Glucose and memory: The influence of drink, expectancy, and beliefs

Brian T Stollery, Leonie M Christian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale. An increasing number of studies suggest that glucose can enhance aspects of memory and the central methodology is the use of the glucose–placebo design. One critical issue therefore is separating the pharmacological effects of glucose from the expectancies created by consuming a drink that might contain glucose.
Objective. A modified balanced placebo design examined the role that expectancy and belief about the drink consumed has on the pharmacological changes observed following glucose consumption.
Method. Ninety-three participants, allocated according to a drink (glucose, placebo) × message (told glucose, told nothing, told placebo) unrelated design, were administered tasks assessing immediate and delayed verbal free recall, spatial recognition and semantic verification. Each task has some evidence for hippocampus involvement, and variations in task difficulty were used to assess the idea that glucose effects are sensitive to task difficulty.
Results. While the messages biased drink judgements in the expected direction, judgements of drink content were at chance and glucose only enhanced delayed free recall. The subtle effects of the messages did not modify the glucose enhancement. However, believing glucose had been consumed showed an independent improvement in delayed free recall. There was no evidence that task complexity enhanced the glucose effect.
Conclusions. The findings indicate that expectancy effects are unlikely to be confused with glucose enhancements, but beliefs about consuming glucose can augment performance on delayed free recall. The discussion considers the hippocampus and complexity hypotheses of glucose’s mode of action and proposes the routine collection of drink beliefs in future studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-697
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Early online date5 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour


  • Glucose
  • Episodic memory
  • Semantic memory
  • Spatial memory
  • Expectancy
  • Beliefs
  • Balanced placebo design


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