l-Theanine and caffeine improve target-specific attention to visual stimuli by decreasing mind wandering: a human functional magnetic resonance imaging study

Nutr Res. 2018 Jan:49:67-78. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2017.11.002. Epub 2017 Nov 16.


Oral intake of l-theanine and caffeine supplements is known to be associated with faster stimulus discrimination, possibly via improving attention to stimuli. We hypothesized that l-theanine and caffeine may be bringing about this beneficial effect by increasing attention-related neural resource allocation to target stimuli and decreasing deviation of neural resources to distractors. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test this hypothesis. Solutions of 200mg of l-theanine, 160mg of caffeine, their combination, or the vehicle (distilled water; placebo) were administered in a randomized 4-way crossover design to 9 healthy adult men. Sixty minutes after administration, a 20-minute fMRI scan was performed while the subjects performed a visual color stimulus discrimination task. l-Theanine and l-theanine-caffeine combination resulted in faster responses to targets compared with placebo (∆=27.8milliseconds, P=.018 and ∆=26.7milliseconds, P=.037, respectively). l-Theanine was associated with decreased fMRI responses to distractor stimuli in brain regions that regulate visual attention, suggesting that l-theanine may be decreasing neural resource allocation to process distractors, thus allowing to attend to targets more efficiently. l-Theanine-caffeine combination was associated with decreased fMRI responses to target stimuli as compared with distractors in several brain regions that typically show increased activation during mind wandering. Factorial analysis suggested that l-theanine and caffeine seem to have a synergistic action in decreasing mind wandering. Therefore, our hypothesis is that l-theanine and caffeine may be decreasing deviation of attention to distractors (including mind wandering); thus, enhancing attention to target stimuli was confirmed.

Keywords: Attention; Caffeine; Clinical trial; Echo planar magnetic resonance imaging; Tea.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Drug Synergism
  • Glutamates / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Glutamates
  • Caffeine
  • theanine