Psychology in Contemporary Society - SMART Drugs


PS1810 Psychology in Contemporary Society

Can 'SMART drugs' make you smarter?



  • Increase memory & planning
  • Wakefulness
  • Seems harmless short-term
  • Easily obtained
  • Only minor effect (smaller ethical implications)


  • Long-term effects?
  • Not controlled for recreational use/cognitive enhancing
  • Impact on society long-term - need for enhancement
  • Risk buying on the internet

Video Experiment - Problems

  • Single person experiment (case study)
  • Practice effects
  • Extraneous factors (how rested/motivated/distracted was she?)

Overall - She didn't feel any different on or off modafinil.

Cognitive Enhancing Drugs


  • Modafinil
  • Ritalin
  • Adderall

Prescribed for the treatment of ADHD

  • Drugsincreased executive functions (EF) - improved attention, better working memory & more flexibility in thinking & responding

Treatment for fatigue - Modafinil

  • Prescribed for fatigue related to narcolepsy, sleep apnea & shift-work sleep disorder
  • Can improve EF (inhibitory control - ability to inhibit or control impulsive or automatic responses)

Modafinil - Effects

  • Regulates wakefulness
  • Has an effect on various neurotransmitters
  • Notably blocks the dopamine transporter (DAT1) which increases available dopamine


  • Associated with reward mechanisms in the brain
  • Cocaine & alcohol increase levels of dopamine
  • Feels good -> probably dopamine

Prefrontal Cortex

  • Involved in 'higher' cognitive functions
  • Self-regulation, behavioural control, planning, working memory & control of attention

Sub-cortical Areas

  • Detection of rewarding stimuli
  • Response to those rewards
  • Motivation for seeking out such rewards
  • Communicates to memory centres to seek out such rewarding experiences in future

Drug Action

  • MPH (Ritalin) & AMP (Amphetamine) increase levels of dopamine noradrenaline in the prefrontal cortex & in cortical & sub-cortical regions projecting to it (Wilens, 2006)
  • They activate the brain's reward system & potential for dependence
  • Modafinil acts in a similar way but is thought to be less addictive
  • MPH (Ritalin) & AMP (Amphetamine) are banned from sports competitions by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Docherty, 2008)

Legal Considerations


  • Prescription only
  • Not a controlled substance
  • Possession without prescription is not illegal
  • Offence to supply (even if offering away for free!)


  • Prescription only
  • Controlled substance
  • Class B drug
  • Possession without prescription is illegal

Side Effects

  • Fever, sore throat, headache & vomiting with severe blistering, peeling & red skin rash
  • Bruising, severe tingling, numbness, pain & muscle weakness
  • Easy bruising/bleeding

Evidence for Effectiveness

Do MPH/AMP enhance learning?

Smith Farah (2011) examined the literature to determine whether MPH/AMP have an enhancing effect…


No comments have yet been made