, Volume 202, Issue 1–3, pp 487–495 | Cite as

Modafinil improves rapid shifts of attention

  • Natalie L. MarchantEmail author
  • Faddy Kamel
  • Kezia Echlin
  • John Grice
  • Mark Lewis
  • Jennifer M. Rusted
Original Investigation



The majority of studies investigating the cognitive effects of modafinil, a wake-promoting compound, demonstrate some improvements in attention. The potential of the drug to selectively benefit distinct components of attention has yet to be fully explored in healthy adults.


The present study was conducted to investigate modafinil’s effect on specific cognitive tasks that tax components of attention switching. One required the rapid switching of attention between stimuli, and another contained an embedded working memory component on top of the attentional shift requirements. Additionally, prospective memory was examined, which requires the interruption of an ongoing activity to retrieve and act upon a previously formed intention.

Materials and methods

Healthy non-smoking volunteers, matched on age, intelligence, and baseline cognitive ability, received either a capsule that contained 200 mg modafinil or placebo. Subjective measures of mood and physiological response were taken throughout the experimental session, and the tasks were completed between 2 and 3 h post-dosing.


Two hundred milligrams modafinil improved accuracy without a reaction time trade-off, in both conditions of the attention-shifting task, but only when resources were most challenged. In contrast, the drug afforded no improvement in prospective remembering or in the ongoing task that was interrupted.


Modafinil appears to promote rapid switching of attention in conditions that are most demanding, whilst it offers no benefits in a task that requires unpredictable and infrequent disengagement of attention from an ongoing task in order to act upon an alternative task.


Modafinil Attention Attention shifting Prospective memory Humans 



This work was supported by a Sussex University D.Phil. studentship and an Overseas Research Scheme Award to the first author. We would like to thank Sam Hutton and two anonymous reviewers for the helpful advice.

Conflicts of interest



  1. Baranski JV, Pigeau R, Dinich P, Jacobs I (2004) Effects of modafinil on cognitive and meta-cognitive performance. Hum Psychopharmacol 19:323–332PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bond A, Lader MH (1974) The use of analogue scales in rating subjective feelings. Br J Med Psychol 47:211–218Google Scholar
  3. Burgess PW, Scott SK, Frith CD (2003) The role of the rostral frontal cortex (area 10) in prospective memory: a lateral versus medial dissociation. Neuropsychologia 41:906–918PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Caldwell JA Jr, Caldwell JL, Smythe NK III, Hall KK (2000) A double-blind, placebo controlled investigation of the efficacy of modafinil for sustaining the alertness and performance of aviators: a helicopter simulator study. Psychopharmacology 150:272–282PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Eysenck MW (1982) Attention and arousal: cognition and performance. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Gilbert SJ, Spengler S, Simons JS, Steele JD, Lawrie SM, Frith CD, Burgess PW (2006) Functional specialization within rostral-prefrontal cortex (area 10): a meta-analysis. J Cogn Neurosci 18:932–948PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hunter MD, Ganesan V, Wilkinson ID, Spence SA (2006) Impact of modafinil on prefrontal executive function in schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry 163:2184–2186PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Loose R, Kaufmann C, Tucha O, Auer DP, Lange KW (2006) Neural Networks of response shifting: influence of task speed and stimulus material. Brain Res 1090:146–155PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Marchant NL (2008) Nicotine does not improve frequent shifts of attention. Unpublished thesis dataGoogle Scholar
  10. Marchant NL, Trawley S, Rusted JM (2008) Prospective memory or prospective attention: physiological and pharmacological support for an attentional model. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 11:401–411PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Muller U, Steffenhagen N, Regenthal R, Bublak P (2004) Effects of modafinil on working memory processes in humans. Psychopharmacology 177:161–169PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Nelson H (1982) National adult reading test manual. Windsor NFER-Nelson, UKGoogle Scholar
  13. Okuda J, Fujii T, Ohtake H, Tsukiura T, Yamadori A, Frith CD, Burgess PW (2007) Differential involvement of regions of rostral prefrontal cortex (Brodmann area 10) in time- and event-based prospective memory. Int J Psychophysiol 64:233–246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Randall DC, Shneerson JM, Plaha KK, File SE (2003) Modafinil affects mood, but not cognitive function, in healthy young volunteers. Hum Psychopharmacol 18:163–173PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Randall DC, Fleck NL, Shneerson JM, File SE (2004) The cognitive-enhancing properties of modafinil are limited in non-sleep deprived middle-aged volunteers. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 77:547–555PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Randall DC, Shneerson JM, File SE (2005a) Cognitive effects of modafinil in student volunteers may depend on IQ. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 82:133–139PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Randall DC, Viswanath A, Bharania P, Elsabagh SM, Hartley DE, Shneerson JM, File SE (2005b) Does modafinil enhance cognitive performance in young volunteers who are not sleep deprived? J Clin Psychopharmacol 25:175–179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ravizza SM, Ivry RB (2001) Comparison of the basal ganglia and cerebellum in shifting attention. J Cogn Neurosci 13:285–297PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rusted JM, Warburton DM (1989) Effects of scopolamine on verbal memory; a retrieval or acquisition deficit? Neuropsychobiology 21:76–83PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rusted JM, Trawley S (2006) Comparable effects of nicotine in smokers and nonsmokers on a prospective memory task. Neuropsychopharmacology 31:1545–1549PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rusted JM, Trawley S, Kettle G, Walker H (2005) Nicotine improves memory for delayed intentions. Psychopharmacology 182:355–365PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rusted JM, Sawyer R, Jones C, Trawley SL, Marchant NL (2008) Positive effects of nicotine on cognition: the deployment of attention for prospective memory. Psychopharmacology (in press)Google Scholar
  23. Rycroft N, Hutton SB, Clowry O, Groomsbridge C, Sierakowski A, Rusted JM (2007) Non-cholinergic modulation of antisaccade performance: a modafinil-nicotine comparison. Psychopharmacology 195:245–253PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Saletu M, Anderer P, Semlitsch HV, Saletu-Zyhlarz GM, Mandl M, Zeitlhofer J, Saletu B (2007) Low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography (LORETA) identifies brain regions linked to psychometric performance under modafinil in narcolepsy. Psychiatry Res 154:69–84PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Simons JS, Scholvinck ML, Gilbert SJ, Frith CD, Burgess PW (2006) Differential components of prospective memory? Evidence from fMRI. Neuropsychologia 44:1388–1397PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Spence SA, Green RD, Wilkinson ID, Hunter MD (2005) Modafinil modulates anterior cingulate function in chronic schizophrenia. Br J Psychiatry 187:55–61PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sylvester CY, Wager TD, Lacey SC, Hernandez L, Nichols TE, Smith EE, Jonides J (2003) Switching attention and resolving interference: fMRI measures of executive functions. Neuropsychologia 41:357–370PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Turner DC, Robbins TW, Clark L, Aron AR, Dowson J, Sahakian BJ (2003) Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology 165:260–269PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Turner DC, Clark L, Dowson J, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2004a) Modafinil improves cognition and response inhibition in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biol Psychiatry 55:1031–1040PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Turner DC, Clark L, Pomarol-Clotet E, McKenna P, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ (2004b) Modafinil improves cognition and attentional set shifting in patients with chronic schizophrenia. Neuropsychopharmacology 29:1363–1373PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. US Modafinil in Narcolepsy Multicenter Study Group (1998) Randomized trial of modafinil for the treatment of pathological somnolence in narcolepsy. Ann Neurol 43:88–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Walsh JK, Randazzo AC, Stone KL, Schweitzer PK (2004) Modafinil improves alertness, vigilance, and executive function during simulated night shifts. Sleep 27:434–439PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Wesensten NJ, Belenky G, Kautz MA, Thorne DR, Reichardt RM, Balkin TJ (2002) Maintaining alertness and performance during sleep deprivation: modafinil versus caffeine. Psychopharmacology 159:238–247PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wesensten NJ, Killgore WDS, Balkin TJ (2005) Performance and alertness effects of caffeine, dextroamphetamine, and modafinil during sleep deprivation. J Sleep Res 14:255–266PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natalie L. Marchant
    • 1
    Email author
  • Faddy Kamel
    • 2
  • Kezia Echlin
    • 2
  • John Grice
    • 2
  • Mark Lewis
    • 2
  • Jennifer M. Rusted
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySussex UniversityBrightonUK
  2. 2.Brighton and Sussex Medical SchoolBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations