Larry Stevens, NAU – Chocolate Brain Boost

Larry Stevens NAUPass the chocolate!

Larry Stevens, a professor of psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University, is researching the brain-boosting powers of cocoa.

Dr. Stevens’ primary interests are in teaching and research in the broad sub-specialty of health psychology and behavioral medicine.

Dr. Stevens coordinates a very active undergraduate and graduate research program in the psychophysiology of altered states of consciousness, of compassion, of psychotherapy techniques, and particularly in clinical hypnosis. He uses electroencephalography (EEG) and EEG neuroimaging techniques to measure and to display brain changes from a variety of states of consciousness.

Dr. Stevens is the principal investigator and program coordinator of the department’s National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored summer undergraduate research internships into the Social Psychophysiology of Compassion. Each summer, he leads a team of faculty mentors and eight undergraduate interns from across the country in the conduct of social and psychophysiological research into the cortical, physiological, and psychosocial underpinnings of compassionate behavior. Research outcomes are presented each year at local, regional, and national (APA) conferences.

Chocolate Brain Boost


Eating chocolate appears to activate the brain in a very special way, by enhancing attentional characteristics. 

Our research was the first to examine the acute effects of chocolate on attentional characteristics of the brain.

Also, this was a very large double-blind study with multiple control conditions, containing more than 120 participants;  

We used electroencephalography or EEG, which takes electrical recordings and images of the brain, while it is performing a cognitive task.

For participants who consumed a sample of at least 60 percent cacao chocolate, their brains were more alert and attentive than others in the study.

Another interesting finding came from a control group that ate chocolate with L-theanine added; that’s the amino acid analogue found in green tea that acts as a relaxant and has been shown to reduce blood pressure. This group actually lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly and up to 1/3 to 1/2 of antihypertensive medications. 

While these new findings need to be replicated and you won’t find L-theanine in chocolate bars yet in this country, manufacturers might be particularly interested in these outcomes.  There is the potential here for an attention-enhancing, heart-healthy chocolate containing higher levels of cacao and L-theanine.

I eat a piece of 100% cacao chocolate every afternoon with a cup of tea, because I enjoy it and also because of its brain boosting power. Maybe not too long from now, if a new generation of chocolate is created, my afternoon snack could be contributing to my heart health as well.


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