, Volume 170, Issue 4, pp 390–398 | Cite as

Effects of methylphenidate on impulsive choice in adult humans

  • Cynthia J. PietrasEmail author
  • Don R. Cherek
  • Scott D. Lane
  • Oleg V. Tcheremissine
  • Joel L. Steinberg
Original Investigation



Several studies with nonhumans and humans have shown that stimulants decrease impulsive choices on delay-to-reinforcement (self-control) procedures. Little is known, however, about the effects of the stimulant methylphenidate on choice for delayed reinforcers in humans.


The present study was designed to investigate the effects of acute methylphenidate administrations on impulsive responding in adult humans on a delay-to-reinforcement task.


Eleven adult males with a history of criminal behavior but no history of attention–deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) participated. Impulsive responding was measured using an adjusting-delay procedure in which subjects were presented with repeated choices between a small amount of money delivered after a short delay and a larger amount of money delivered after a delay that adjusted as a function of previous choices. Subjects were exposed to four experimental sessions each day of participation and 60 min prior to the first daily session received placebo or 0.15, 0.30, or 0.60 mg/kg methylphenidate. Stable choice patterns were re-established between each methylphenidate dose.


Individuals differed in their sensitivity to methylphenidate, but in over half of the subjects methylphenidate decreased impulsive (i.e., increased the number of self-control choices) and increased the delay to the large reinforcer. The largest increases in self-control choices tended to occur at the 0.30-mg/kg and 0.60-mg/kg doses, and the effects often persisted across multiple daily sessions. In six subjects, under at least one methylphenidate dose, the number of impulsive choices decreased to zero.


Acute methylphenidate administrations tended to decrease the number of impulsive choices in adult humans on an adjusting-delay procedure, although there were substantial individual differences in the sensitivity of choice to methylphenidate. In no case, however, did methylphenidate increase impulsive choices. These results are consistent with several recent laboratory studies with nonhumans and humans showing that stimulants increase preference for large, delayed reinforcers.


Methylphenidate Stimulants Impulsivity Self-control Choice Human 



This research was supported by NIH grant DA 10552 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The authors wish to thank Sheila White, Jennifer Sharon and Ehren Bradbury for their assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cynthia J. Pietras
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Don R. Cherek
    • 1
  • Scott D. Lane
    • 1
  • Oleg V. Tcheremissine
    • 1
  • Joel L. Steinberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Human Psychopharmacology LaboratoryUniversity of Texas-Houston Health Science CenterHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA

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