Coffee time
In the study, subjects wore MINDWATCH skin-monitoring wristbands and brain-monitoring headbands whilst drinking coffee, listening to music and smelling perfumes, based on their personal preferences. Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Everyday pleasures, such as drinking coffee, listening to music and walking through a pristine park have become a staple for the carefree way we live our lives.

For instance, some people (including myself) genuinely seem to struggle with functioning in the early hours of the morning unless they grab their traditional oat lattes or double espresso shots before venturing to work.

Now, according to a recent study from NYU Tandon School of Engineering in New York, indulging in everyday pleasures can positively impact your brain activity and improve cognitive function.

To gather their findings, researchers used a ground-breaking, brain-monitoring technology by the name of MINDWATCH.

Developed over the past six years by NYU Tandon's Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor, Rose Faghih, MINDWATCH is an algorithm that can analyse a person's brain activity using data collected from wearable devices on the wrist or head.

Professor Faghih also serves as senior author for the paper alongside first author, Hamid Fekri Azgomi, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar of neurological surgery at the University of California.

In the study, subjects wore MINDWATCH skin-monitoring wristbands and brain-monitoring headbands whilst drinking coffee, listening to music and smelling perfumes, also based on their personal preferences.

The algorithm ultimately revealed that these stimulants had altered subjects' brain arousal, essentially putting them into a state of mind that improved their performance in working memory.

Specifically, MINDWATCH determined that the stimulants triggered an increased "beta brand" brain wave activity, which is itself associated with greater cognitive function and performance.

"The pandemic has impacted the mental well-being of many people across the globe and now more than ever, there is a need to seamlessly monitor the negative impact of everyday stressors on one's cognitive function.

"Right now MINDWATCH is still under development, but our eventual goal is that it will contribute to technology that could allow any person to monitor his or her own brain cognitive arousal in real time."

Professor Rose Faghih.

As for the cognitive test used in the study, a working memory task (known as the n-back test) involved presenting subjects with a sequence of stimuli, specifically sounds and images.

One by one, the subjects were individually asked to indicate whether the current stimulus matches the one presented 'n' items back in the sequence.

Researchers also tested three types of music, ranging from energetic to relaxing, as well as AI-generated music that reflected the subject's own tastes. As expected, the familiar energetic music delivered bigger performance gains, as measured by reaction times and correct answers.

Additionally, drinking a hot cup of coffee also led to a notable performance gain, whereas smelling perfume only led to a modest gain.

In other words, it looks like a boost of caffeine does the trick after all.

Going forward, the researchers at NYU plan on continuing with ongoing experimentation using the MINDWATCH algorithm in order to confirm the efficiency of the technology's ability to monitor neurological activity more consistently.

In retrospect, determining a category of successful interventions doesn't necessarily mean that any individual person will find that it works for them.

This recent MINDWATCH study was published in Nature Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.