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12-07-2019 | Original Article

At what stage in the drinking process does drinking water affect attention and memory? Effects of mouth rinsing and mouth drying in adults

Psychological Research
Caroline J. Edmonds, Jamila Skeete, Eva Klamerus, Mark Gardner
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Drinking water is important for health and there is an agreement that drinking water facilitates certain cognitive processes. However, the mechanism underlying the effect of drinking water on cognition is unknown. While attention performance is improved by even a very small drink, memory performance seems to require larger drinks for performance enhancement. This suggests that attention could be affected earlier in the drinking process than memory. We aimed to elucidate further the mechanism involved by investigating the stage during the drinking process influencing performance on cognitive tasks. To this end, we compared mouth rinsing and mouth drying. Mouth rinsing was expected to result in improved attention performance and would suggest that the mechanism responsible is located in the mouth and occurs early in the drinking process, before swallowing. Eighty-seven adults participated in either a treatment (mouth rinsing or mouth drying) or control (no intervention) condition. They were assessed at baseline and 20 min later after intervention on measures of visual attention, short-term memory, subjective thirst and mood. Our results showed that mouth rinsing improved visual attention, but not short-term memory, mood or subjective thirst. Mouth drying did not affect performance. Our results support the hypothesis that different mechanisms underlie the effect of drinking water on different cognitive processes. They suggest that merely sipping water, as opposed to having a large drink, can improve attention.

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