March 25, 2020
Alert the public! Adderall and Ritalin are frequently prescribed to ADHD patients—and are just as commonly swallowed and snorted as late-night study aids by college students—because they are widely believed to increased concentration and focus.
Except it turns out that these stimulants don’t work that way at all: Indeed, research conducted at Brown University has determined that Adderall, Ritalin, and other, prescription stimulants interact differently in the brain and the body than previously understood, Fast Company reports.
“We’ve known for a long time that when you give people these types of stimulants, you get enhanced performance,” said coauthor Andrew Westbrook, a post doctoral research at Brown University, in a press release. “But is that due to an increased ability, or is it due to increased motivation? We didn’t know which of these two factors were contributing and to what degree.”
The key phrase is cognitive motivation. The study shows that the medications spike mental awareness of the benefits of completing a difficult task. They do this by increasing the amount of dopamine released into a part of the brain called the striatum. Dopamine moderates motivation, and so the mind downplays the costs and difficulties of a task, while increasing the apparent advantages. The researchers found no increases in ability, Fast Company said.
This is news to the more than 16 million adults who are prescribed stimulants such as Ritalin annually, and the 5 million more who misuse prescriptions, according to a 2018 study from the National Institutes of Health.
Research contact: @FastCompany