The effect of caffeine on the behavior of regular and learning-disabled students

Billy Wayne Pyle, Tennessee State University


This study set experimental conditions to test the effect of the caffeine in a typical cola on student behavior. The behavior tested was defined by the Zero Input Tracking Analyzer (ZITA) developed by the late Norman K. Walker, British physicist and weapons designer. ZITA was developed to test fighter pilot competence under distracting combat conditions (stress), and has been recently standardized for children. Individual student scores recorded from the electronic machine represented the ability to position a spot of moving light on a "video type" screen using a single action (left, right) control lever. While performing this task the student was presented a distracting sound tone (ADT) to which he also responded. A comparison of scores on tests, with and without the ADT, gave an indication of the child's reaction to "stress." Participants were selected from third grade classrooms in a suburban elementary school. Three typical types of colas with concealed labels were presented in a double-blind test. Demographic data on the students was withheld from the evaluator until the experiment was concluded. Ten of 49 students tested were learning disabled. Data were analyzed by a multi-variant ANOVA. Interactions were significant when considering student types (LD and Non-LD) (F score = 18.00), visual nature of tasks (T$\sb0$, T$\sb1$) (F = 84.94), and stress mode scores (F = 128.81). Cola had no impact on the ZITA scores in any area (F = 2.22). Learning disabled students were identified by higher error scores on visual ZITA tasks. The stress mode degradated the test scores of both regular and LD students. Regular students were not significantly better in their reaction to stress than were LD students. Four individual students had reactions to caffeine far above those of other participants. A review of the findings produced the following recommendations: (1) That further studies on the etiology of learning disabilities be made based on the complex nature and rapidly increasing numbers of LD students. (2) That studies of the effect of larger doses of caffeine on expanded population samples be made. (3) That individuals whose scores on ZITA show unique patterns need to be studied for cause and effect relationships.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Special education

Recommended Citation

Billy Wayne Pyle, "The effect of caffeine on the behavior of regular and learning-disabled students" (1986). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI8802624.