If surveys are accurate, up to 20 percent of students have taken Modafinil (Provigil), a psychostimulant embraced by "lifehackers" in the naturalistic crowd, to boost their ability to study and improve their chances of exam success.
It is claimed, mostly by other students and readers of New York Magazine, that Modafinil is a 'smart' drug. Yet that isn't the case. Just like people without celiac disease are actually damaging their health giving up gluten and replacing it with the extra sugar, extra fat, hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose and xanthan gum found in gluten-free foods, healthy students who take Modafinil instead find their performance impaired by the drug.
In a randomized double blind study, Dr. Ahmed Dahir Mohamed in the School of Psychology at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and colleagues administered 32 participants with the drug and 32 with a placebo. All the participants were given a famous neuropsychological task known as the Hayling Sentence Completion Test in which they were asked to respond both quickly and accurately. Dr Mohamed found the drug slowed down reaction times, impaired their ability to respond in a timely manner and failed to improve their performance of the task.
Mohamed said, "It has been argued that Modafinil might improve your performance by delaying your ability to respond. It has been suggested this 'delay dependent improvement' might improve cognitive performance by making people less impulsive. We found no evidence to support those claims.
"Our research showed that when a task required instant reactions the drug just increased reaction times with no improvement to cognitive performance."
Does Modafinil benefit anyone?
When Mohamed looked at participant's ability to problem solve in a creative manner he found that those who weren't particularly creative to start with were improved by the drug while those who were creative were impaired by the drug.
He said: "Our study backs up previous research that suggests psychostimulants improve people at the lower end of the spectrum in cognition whereas they impair people who are at the optimum level of cognitive function -- healthy people for example.
It looks like Modafinil is not helpful for healthy individuals and it might even impair their ability to respond and might stifle their lateral thinking, while people who have some sort of deficiency in creativity are helped by the drug."
Modafinil - the nocebo of choice for Wall Street Executives and the children they are raising.