The first study to prove nootropic Modafinil considerably enhances cognition has been published in the peer-reviewed journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.
The smart drug, which was originally designed to treat narcolepsy, has long been used by students and professionals alike for its infamous focus-enhancing abilities, but until now there has been little scientific research to prove its impact on high functioning individuals, with earlier research focusing on cognitive performance in sub-optimal subjects.
Led by Klaus Lieb MD of the University of Mainz, Germany, the study used a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of top chess players, and also looked at methylphenidate and caffeine.
Results showed that use of Modafinil resulted in higher game scores when compared to a placebo.
Controlled doses of modafinil, methylphenidate, caffeine, or a placebo, were given to 39 above-average male chess players. Subjects were given a dose of a particular drug (or placebo) in the morning and played a set of 10, 15 minute games against a chess program, which had been matched to the strength of each individual player. Subjects would repeat the process in the afternoon. The study ran over four days, spread out over several weeks, with subjects given a randomly assigned drug or placebo on each day. By the end of the research process, data had been gathered from over 3000 chess games.
The researchers’ initial analysis showed that players on modafinil and methylphenidate, and caffeine to a much lesser extent, did about 6-8% better than those on placebos, however in closer analysis it appears players spent significantly more time thinking about each move after taking the drugs. This was especially prevalent in players who already struggled with timed games. Despite slower play, subjects did make better choices during each game.
According to the study’s authors, this suggests modafinil and methylphenidate “improve the players’ ability or willingness to spend more time on a decision and hence to perform more thorough calculations.”
Professor Lieb said it indicates “their thought processes seemed to be deeper.”
When time management issues were removed from the analysis equation, it showed players’ odds of winning after consumption of the smart drugs improved by five percentage points, which would elevate players from a world rank of 5000 to 3500.
“Chess involves several higher brain processes including working memory, planning, cognitive flexibility and cognitive control… This work, one of the first to study drug effects on chess, shows that these performance enhancements can translate into real-world activities…though sometimes at the cost of losing on time,” said Professor Trevor Robbins, who leads the Cognitive Neuroscience department at the University of Cambridge, and was once ranked in the top 20 chess players in England.
With previous studies focusing on fatigued or sub-optimal subjects, this new data suggests modafinil and similar nootropics could improve performance among people who are already at peak cognitive levels, whether that be in a game of chess, during exam preparation, or in undertaking other complex intellectual tasks.
Though more study is needed, particularly when it comes to the side effects of these drugs with prolonged repeated use, it’s a promising discovery in the world of nootropics.
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Originally posted on April 6, 2017, last updated on January 23, 2020.