Thirty-six male student volunteer subjects performed two tests designed to measure two different parameters of attention, capacity to attend maximally as measured by the running memory span, and the breatdh or narrowness of attention as measured by performance on the Stroop test. Each subject was tested under three drug treatments, methamphetamine, pentobarbital, and saline placebo, all administered intravenously. Each subject served as his own control.
On the running digit span test the mean of the methamphetamine scores was larger than the mean of the pentobarbital scores, and the difference was significant. This difference is most likely to be due to the effect of barbiturates in reducing short term storage. Scores on placebo fell between the two drug scores, but did not differ significantly from either.
We were unable to confirm Callaway conclusions that barbiturate broadens the focus of attention and methamphetamine narrows it when the scores on a modified Stroop test were used as the measure. Mean difference scores between reading color names printed in conflicting color and reading color names in black and white, or between color names printed in conflicting color and naming colored dots, did not show significant differences under different drug treatments.
The results suggest that barbiturate does interfere with the capacity of the human subject to attend maximally as measured by the running digit span test, but the effects of methamphetamine on this function and the effects of both drugs on the focus of attention could not be demonstrated by the method employed. Further experimental work is needed to determine the effects of drugs on capacity to attend maximally and to focus attention.
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This research was supported in part by Air Force Contract AF-49(638)-98 and in part by NIMH Grant MY 3966. Dr. G. C. Quarton is supported by NIMH Career Investigator Grant M-1608.
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Quarton, G.C., Talland, G.A. The effects of methamphetamine and pentobarbital on two measures of attention. Psychopharmacologia 3, 66–71 (1962). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00413109
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