, Volume 111, Issue 1, pp 1-16

Stimulant drugs and vigilance performance: a review

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Abstract

The literature on the effects of some stimulant drugs (amphetamine, methylphenidate, caffeine, and nicotine) on vigilance performance is reviewed. Improvement of overall level of performance (both accuracy and speed) after the intake of amphetamine, caffeine, and nicotine has often been reported, and the decrement in performance with time has been shown to be prevented especially with amphetamine and nicotine. Effects on false alarms are negligible. In studies where a test battery was employed, vigilance tasks appeared to be the most sensitive performance tests in detecting the effects of stimulants; however, different vigilance tasks may measure different aspects of mental functions. There is no support for earlier conclusions that improvements are noticed only in fatigued subjects in protracted sessions. Evidence from several studies does not support the hypothesis that improvements are only a recovery of withdrawal-induced impairment. Because positive effects have been obtained with drugs possessing different mechanisms of action, there is as yet no clear support for a noradrenergic, dopaminergic, or cholinergic theory of sustained attention. Simple neurotransmitter theories of attention and information processing may be untenable.