, Volume 111, Issue 1, pp 1–16 | Cite as

Stimulant drugs and vigilance performance: a review

  • H. S. Koelega


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.

Key words

Stimulants Amphetamine Methylphenidate Caffeine Nicotine Neurotransmitters Vigilance performance 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aman MG, Vamos M, Werry JS (1984) Effects of methylphenidate in normal adults with reference to drug action in hyperactivity. Aust NZ J Psychiatry 18:86–88Google Scholar
  2. Baker WJ, Theologus GC (1972) Effects of caffeine on visual monitoring. J Appl Psychol 56:422–427Google Scholar
  3. Bartel P, Delport R, Lotz B, Ubbink J, Becker P (1992) Effects of single and repeated doses of theophylline on aspects of performance, electrophysiology and subjective assessments in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology 106:90–96Google Scholar
  4. Bättig K, Buzzi R (1986) Effect of coffee on the speed of subject-paced information processing. Neuropsychobiology 16:126–130Google Scholar
  5. Benowitz NL (1988) Pharmacologic aspects of cigarette smoking and nicotine addiction. N Eng J Med 319:1318–1330Google Scholar
  6. Borland RG, Rogers AS, Nicholson AN, Pascoe PA, Spencer MB (1986) Performance overnight in shiftworkers operating a day-night schedule. Aviat Space Environ Med 57:241–249Google Scholar
  7. Bruce M, Scott N, Lader M, Marks V (1986) The psychopharma-cological and electrophysiological effects of single doses of caffeine in healthy human subjects. Br J Clin Pharmacol 22:81–87Google Scholar
  8. Bye C, Munro-Faure AD, Peck AW, Young PA (1973) A comparison of the effects of 1-benzylpiperazine and dexamphetamine on human performance tests. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 6:163–169Google Scholar
  9. Callaway E, Halliday R, Naylor H (1992) Cholinergic activity and constraints on information processing. Biol Psychol 33:1–22Google Scholar
  10. Clubley M, Bye CE, Henson TA, Peck AW, Riddington CJ (1979) Effects of caffeine and cyclizine alone and in combination on human performance, subjective effects and EEG activity. Br J Clin Pharmacol 7:157–163Google Scholar
  11. Coons HW, Peloquin LJ, Klorman R, Bauer LO, Ryan RM, Perlmutter RA, Salzman LF (1981) Effect of methylphenidate on young adults' vigilance and event-related potentials. EEG Clin Neurophysiol 51:373–387Google Scholar
  12. Dews PB (1984) Behavioral effects of caffeine. In: Dews PB (ed) Caffeine; perspectives from recent research. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 86–103Google Scholar
  13. Edwards JA, Wesnes K, Warburton DM, Gale A (1985) Evidence of more rapid stimulus evaluation following cigarette smoking. Addict Behav 10:113–126Google Scholar
  14. Fagan D, Swift CG, Tiplady B (1988) Effects of caffeine on vigilance and other performance tests in normal subjects. J Psychopharmacol 2:19–25Google Scholar
  15. Frankenhaeuser M, Myrsten A-L, Post B, Johansson G (1971) Behavioral and physiological effects of cigarette smoking in a monotonous situation. Psychopharmacology 22:1–7Google Scholar
  16. Frewer LJ, Lader M (1991) The effects of caffeine on two computerized tests of attention and vigilance. Hum Psychopharmacol 6:119–128Google Scholar
  17. Halliday R, Callaway E, Naylor H, Brandeis D, Yano L (1989) The comparative effects ofd-amphetamine and noradrenergic drugs on human information processing. Psychophysiology 26 [Suppl 4A]:S30 AbstractGoogle Scholar
  18. Halliday R, Le Houezec J, Benowitz N, Naylor H, Yano L, Herzig K, Callaway E (1992) Nicotine speeds RT and P3 in non-smokers. Psychophysiology 29 [Suppl 4A]:S36 AbstractGoogle Scholar
  19. Hamilton MJ, Smith PR, Peck AW (1983) Effects of bupropion, nomifensine and dexamphetamine on performance, subjective feelings, autonomic variables and electroencephalogram in healthy volunteers. Br J Clin Pharmacol 15:367–374Google Scholar
  20. Hasenfratz M, Michel C, Nil R, Bättig K (1989a) Can smoking increase attention in rapid information processing during noise? Electrocortical, physiological and behavioral effects. Psychopharmacology 98:75–80Google Scholar
  21. Hasenfratz M, Pfiffner D, Pellaud K, Bättig K (1989b) Postlunch smoking for pleasure seeking or arousal maintenance? Pharmacol Biochem Behav 34:631–639Google Scholar
  22. Hasenfratz M, Jaquet F, Aesbach D, Bättig K (1991) Interactions of smoking and lunch with the effects of caffeine on cardiovascular functions and information processing. Hum Psychopharmacol 6:277–284Google Scholar
  23. Hatsukami D, Fletcher L, Morgan S, Keenan R, Amble P (1989) The effects of varying cigarette deprivation duration on cognitive and performance tasks. J Subst Abuse 1:407–416Google Scholar
  24. Hauty GT, Payne RB (1955) Mitigation of work decrement. J Exp Psychol 49:60–67Google Scholar
  25. Haward LRC (1965) Drug-induced fatigue decrement in air traffic control. Percept Mot Skills 20:952Google Scholar
  26. Heimstra NW, Bancroft NR, DeKock AR (1967) Effects of smoking upon sustained performance in a simulated driving task. Ann NY Acad Sci 142:295–307Google Scholar
  27. Hink RF, Fenton WH, Tinklenberg JR, Pfefferbaum A, Kopell BS (1978) Vigilance and human attention under conditions of methylphenidate and secobarbital intoxication: an assessment using brain potentials. Psychophysiology 15:116–125Google Scholar
  28. Hughes JR, Keenan RM, Yellin A (1989) Effect of tobacco with-drawal on sustained attention. Addict Behav 14:577–580Google Scholar
  29. Jarvik ME, Caskey NH, Rose JE, Herskovic JE, Sadeghpour M (1989) Anxiolytic effects of smoking associated with four stressors. Addict Behav 14:379–386Google Scholar
  30. Jones GMM, Sahakian BJ, Levy R, Warburton DM, Gray JA (1992) Effects of acute subcutaneous nicotine on attention, information processing and short-term memory in Alzheimer's disease. Psychopharmacology 108:485–494Google Scholar
  31. Keenan RM, Hatsukami DK, Anton DJ (1989) The effects of short-term smokeless tobacco deprivation on performance. Psychopharmacology 98:126–130Google Scholar
  32. Keister ME, McLaughlin RJ (1972) Vigilance performance related to extraversion-introversion and caffeine. J Exp Res Pers 6:5–11Google Scholar
  33. Kerr JS, Sherwood N, Hindmarch I (1991) Separate and combined effects of the social drugs on psychomotor performance. Psychopharmacology 104:113–119Google Scholar
  34. Knott VJ, Griffiths L (1992) Day-long smoking deprivation: mood, performance and EEG/ERP comparisons with smoking and non-smoking controls. Psychophysiology 29 [Suppl 4A]:S45 AbstractGoogle Scholar
  35. Koelega HS (1989) Benzodiazepines and vigilance performance: a review. Psychopharmacology 98:145–156Google Scholar
  36. Koelega HS (1992) Extraversion and vigilance performance: 30 years of inconsistencies. Psychol Bull 112:239–258Google Scholar
  37. Koelega HS (1993) Sustained attention. In: Neumann O, Sanders AF (eds) Attention. Handbook of Perception and Action, vol. 3. Academic Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  38. Koelega HS, Brinkman J-A, Hendriks L, Verbaten MN (1989) Processing demands, effort, and individual differences in four different vigilance tasks. Hum Fact 31:45–62Google Scholar
  39. Koelega HS, Verbaten MN, van Leeuwen TH, Kenemans JL, Kemner C, Sjouw W (1992) Time effects on event-related brain potentials and vigilance performance. Biol Psychol 34:59–86Google Scholar
  40. Kornetsky C, Mirsky AF, Kessler EK, Dorff JE (1959) The effects of dextro-amphetamine on behavioral deficits produced by sleep loss in humans. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 127:46–50Google Scholar
  41. Kožená L, Frantik E, Horváth M (1986) The effect on vigilance of an analgesic combination (Ataralgin) and its components, guaiphenesine and caffeine. Activ Nerv Super 28:153–155Google Scholar
  42. Kozlowski LT (1976) Effects of caffeine consumption on nicotine consumption. Psychopharmacology 47:165–168Google Scholar
  43. Kuznicki JT, Turner LS (1986) The effects of caffeine on caffeine users and non-users. Physiol Behav 37:397–408Google Scholar
  44. Leigh G, Tong JE, Campbell JA (1977) Effects of ethanol and tobacco on divided attention. J Stud Alcohol 38:1233–1239Google Scholar
  45. Lieberman HR, Wurtman RJ, Emde GG, Coviella ILG (1987a) The effects of caffeine and aspirin on mood and performance. J Clin Psychopharmacol 7:315–320Google Scholar
  46. Lieberman HR, Wurtman RJ, Emde GG, Roberts C, Coviella ILG (1987b) The effects of low doses of caffeine on human performance and mood. Psychopharmacology 92:308–312Google Scholar
  47. Loeb M, Hawkes GR, Evans WO, Alluisi EA (1965) The influence ofd-amphetamine, benactyzine, and chlorpromazine on performance in an auditory vigilance task. Psychon Sci 3:29–30Google Scholar
  48. Loke WH, Meliska CJ (1984) Effects of caffeine use and ingestion on a protracted visual vigilance task. Psychopharmacology 84:54–57Google Scholar
  49. Lyon RJ, Tong JE, Leigh G, Clare G (1975) The influence of alcohol and tobacco on the components of choice reaction time. J Stud Alcohol 36:587–596Google Scholar
  50. Mackworth NH (1950) Researches on the measurement of human performance. Med Res Council Spec Rep Ser 268. HMSO, LondonGoogle Scholar
  51. Mackworth JF (1965) The effect of amphetamine on the detectability of signals in a vigilance task. Can J Psychol 19:104–110Google Scholar
  52. Mangan GL (1982) The effects of cigarette smoking on vigilance performance. J Gen Psychol 106:77–83Google Scholar
  53. Michel Ch, Bättig K (1989) Separate and combined psychophysiological effects of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption. Psychopharmacology 97:65–73Google Scholar
  54. Michel Ch, Nil R, Buzzi R, Woodson PP, Bättig K (1987) Rapid information processing and concomitant event-related brain potentials in smokers differing in CO absorption. Neuropsychobiology 17:161–168Google Scholar
  55. Michel Ch, Hasenfratz M, Nil R, Bättig K (1988) Cardiovascular, electrocortical, and behavioral effects of nicotine chewing gum. Klin Wochenschr (Suppl XI) 66:72–79Google Scholar
  56. Morris H, Gale A (1988) Smoking and vigilance: a critical appraisal of research. In: Leonard JP (ed) Vigilance: methods, models and regulation. Lang, Frankfurt, pp 227–235Google Scholar
  57. Myrsten A-L, Andersson K, Frankenhaeuser M, Elgerot A (1975) Immediate effects of cigarette smoking as related to different smoking habits. Percept Mot Skills 40:515–523Google Scholar
  58. Neal GL, Pearson RG (1966) Comparative effects of age, sex, and drugs upon two tasks of auditory vigilance. Percept Mot Skills 23:967–974Google Scholar
  59. Nicholson AN, Stone BM, Jones SJ (1984) Studies on the possible central effects in man of a neuropeptide (ACTH 4–9 analogue). Eur J Clin Pharmacol 27:561–565Google Scholar
  60. Nil R, Woodson PP, Michel Ch, Bättig K (1988) Effects of smoking on mental performance and vegetative functions in high and low CO absorbing smokers. Klin Wochenschr 66 (Suppl XI):66–71Google Scholar
  61. O'Hanlon JF, Fussler C, Sancin E, Grandjean EP (1978) Efficacy of an ACTH 4–9 analog, relative to that of a standard drug (d-amphetamine), for blocking the “vigilance decrement” in men. Rep Organon Int NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  62. Parrott AC (1991a) Performance tests in human psychopharmacology (1): test reliability and standardization. Hum Psychopharmacol 6:1–9Google Scholar
  63. Parrott AC (1991b) Performance tests in human psychopharmacology (2): content validity, criterion validity, and face validity. Hum Psychopharmacol 6:91–98Google Scholar
  64. Parrott AC (1991c) Performance tests in human psychopharmacology (3): construct validity and test interpretation. Hum Psychopharmacol 6:197–207Google Scholar
  65. Parrott AC, Craig D (1992) Cigarette smoking and nicotine gum (0, 2 and 4 mg): effects upon four visual attention tasks. Neuropsychobiology 25:34–43Google Scholar
  66. Parrott AC, Winder G (1989) Nicotine chewing gum (2 mg, 4 mg) and cigarette smoking: comparative effects upon vigilance and heart rate. Psychopharmacology 97:257–261Google Scholar
  67. Parsons WD, Neims AH (1978) Effect of smoking on caffeine clearance. Clin Pharmacol Ther 24:40–45Google Scholar
  68. Payne RB, Hauty GT (1954) The effects of experimentally induced attitudes upon task proficiency. J Exp Psychol 47:267–273Google Scholar
  69. Payne RB, Hauty GT (1955) Effect of psychological feedback upon work decrement. J Exp Psychol 50:343–351Google Scholar
  70. Peck AW, Bye CE, Clubley M, Henson T, Riddington C (1979) A comparison of bupropion hydrochloride with dexamphetamine and amitriptyline in healthy subjects. Br J Clin Pharmacol 7:469–478Google Scholar
  71. Petrie RXA, Deary IJ (1989) Smoking and human information processing. Psychopharmacology 99:393–396Google Scholar
  72. Posner MI, Petersen SE (1990) The attention system of the human brain. Ann Rev Neurosci 13:25–42Google Scholar
  73. Pribram KH, McGuinness D (1975) Arousal, activation, and effort in the control of attention. Psychol Rev 82:116–149Google Scholar
  74. Pritchard WS, Robinson JH, Guy TD (1992) Enhancement of continuous performance task reaction time by smoking in non-deprived smokers. Psychopharmacology 108:437–442Google Scholar
  75. Rapoport JL, Buchsbaum MS, Weingartner H, Zahn TP, Ludlow C, Mikkelsen EJ (1980) Dextroamphetamine; its cognitive and behavioral effects in normal and hyperactive boys and normal men. Arch Gen Psychiatry 37:933–943Google Scholar
  76. Rapoport JL, Jensvold M, Elkins R, Buchsbaum MS, Weingartner H, Ludlow C, Zahn TP, Berg CJ, Neims AH (1981) Behavioral and cognitive effects of caffeine in boys and adult males. J Nerv Ment Dis 169:726–732Google Scholar
  77. Ratliff-Crain J, O'Keeffe MK, Baum A (1989) Cardiovascular reactivity, mood and task performance in deprived and nondeprived coffee drinkers. Health Psychol 8:427–447Google Scholar
  78. Regina EG, Smith GM, Keiper CG, McKelvey RK (1974) Effects of caffeine on alertness in simulated automobile driving. J Appl Psychol 59:483–489Google Scholar
  79. Revell AD (1988) Smoking and performance — a puff-by-puff analysis. Psychopharmacology 96:563–565Google Scholar
  80. Rogers AS, Spencer MB, Stone BM, Nicholson AN (1989) The influence of a 1 h nap on performance overnight. Ergonomics 32:1193–1205Google Scholar
  81. Rosenthal L, Roehrs T, Zwyghuizen-Doorenbos A, Plath D, Roth T (1991) Alerting effects of caffeine after normal and restricted sleep. Neuropsychopharmacology 4:103–108Google Scholar
  82. Sahakian B, Jones G, Levy R, Gray J, Warburton D (1989) The effects of nicotine on attention, information processing, and short-term memory in patients with dementia of the Alzheimer Type. Br J Psychiatry 154:797–800Google Scholar
  83. Smith AP, Rusted JM, Eaton-Williams P, Savory M, Leathwood P (1990) Effects of caffeine given before and after lunch on sustained attention. Neuropsychobiology 23:160–163Google Scholar
  84. Snyder FR, Henningfield JE (1989) Effects of nicotine administration following 12 h of tobacco deprivation: assessment on computerized performance tasks. Psychopharmacology 97:17–22Google Scholar
  85. Solandt DY, Partridge RC (1946) Research on auditory problems presented by naval operations. J Can Med Serv 3:323–329Google Scholar
  86. Spiegel R (1978) Effects of amphetamines on performance and on polygraphic sleep parameters in man. Adv Biosci 21:189–201Google Scholar
  87. Stolerman IP (1987) Psychopharmacology of nicotine: stimulus effects and receptor mechanisms. In: Iversen LL, Iversen SD, Snyder SH (eds) Handbook of psychopharmacology, vol 19. Plenum Press, New York, pp 421–465Google Scholar
  88. Strauss J, Lewis JL, Klorman R, Peloquin LJ, Perlmutter RA, Salzman LF (1984) Effects of methylphenidate on young adults' performance and event-related potentials in a vigilance and a paired-associates learning test. Psychophysiology 21:609–621Google Scholar
  89. Swift CG, Tiplady B (1988) The effects of age on the response to caffeine. Psychopharmacology 94:29–31Google Scholar
  90. Talland GA (1966) Improvement of sustained attention with Cylert. Psychon Sci 6:493–494Google Scholar
  91. Talland GA, Quarton GC (1966) The effects of drugs and familiarity on performance in continuous visual search. J Nerv Ment Dis 143:266–274Google Scholar
  92. Tarrière C, Hartemann F (1964) Investigation into the effects of tobacco smoke on a visual vigilance task. Proc Second Int Congr Ergonomics Suppl, pp 525–530Google Scholar
  93. Timmerman W (1992) Dopaminergic receptor agents and the basal ganglia: pharmacological properties and interactions with the GABA-ergic system. PhD thesis, University of Groningen, the NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  94. Tiplady B (1992a) Continuous attention: rationale and discriminant validation of a test designed for use in psychopharmacology. Behav Res Methods Instrum Comp 24:16–21Google Scholar
  95. Tiplady B (1992b) Reliability and sensitivity of performance tests in human psychopharmacology. Hum Psychopharmacol 7:139–141Google Scholar
  96. Tiplady B, Fagan D, Lamont M, Brockway M, Scott DB (1990) A comparison of the CNS effects of enprofylline and theophylline in healthy subjects assessed by performance testing and subjective measures. Br J Clin Pharmacol 30:55–61Google Scholar
  97. Tong JE, Knott VJ, McGraw DJ, Leigh G (1974) Alcohol, visual discrimination and heart rate. Q J Stud Alcohol 35:1003–1022Google Scholar
  98. Tong JE, Leigh G, Campbell J, Smith D (1977) Tobacco smoking, personality and sex factors in auditory vigilance performance. Br J Psychol 68:365–370Google Scholar
  99. Tong JE, Henderson PR, Chipperfield BGA (1980) Effects of ethanol and tobacco on auditory vigilance performance. Addict Behav 5:153–158Google Scholar
  100. Townsend AM, Mirsky AF (1960) A comparison of the effects of meprobamate, phenobarbital andd-amphetamine on two psychological tests. J Nerv Ment Dis 130:212–216Google Scholar
  101. Tucker DM, Williamson PA (1984) Asymmetric neural control systems in human self-regulation. Psychol Rev 91:185–215Google Scholar
  102. Warburton DM (1992a) Nicotine issues. Psychopharmacology 108:393–396Google Scholar
  103. Warburton DM (1992b) Nicotine as a cognitive enhancer. Progr Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 16:181–191Google Scholar
  104. Warburton DM, Wesnes K (1978) Individual differences in smoking and attentional performance. In: Thornton RE (ed) Smoking behaviour. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, pp 19–43Google Scholar
  105. Warburton DM, Wesnes K (1984) Drugs as research tools in psychology: cholinergic drugs and information processing. Neuropsychobiology 11:121–132Google Scholar
  106. Weiner H, Ross S (1962) The effects of “unwanted” signals andd-amphetamine sulfate on observer responses. J Appl Psychol 46:135–141Google Scholar
  107. Weiss B, Laties VG (1962) Enhancement of human performance by caffeine and the amphetamines. Pharmacol Rev 14:1–36Google Scholar
  108. Wesnes K, Revell A (1984) The separate and combined effects of scopolamine and nicotine on human information processing. Psychopharmacology 84:5–11Google Scholar
  109. Wesnes K, Warburton DM (1978) The effects of cigarette smoking and nicotine tablets upon human attention. In: Thornton RE (ed) Smoking behaviour: physiological and psychological influences. Churchill-Livingston, London, pp 131–147Google Scholar
  110. Wesnes K, Warburton DM (1983) Effects of smoking on rapid information processing performance. Neuropsychobiology 9:223–229Google Scholar
  111. Wesnes K, Warburton DM (1984a) Effects of scopolamine and nicotine on human rapid information processing performance. Psychopharmacology 82:147–150Google Scholar
  112. Wesnes K, Warburton DM (1984b) The effects of cigarettes of varying yield on rapid information processing performance. Psychopharmacology 82:338–342Google Scholar
  113. Wesnes K, Warburton DM, Matz B (1983) Effects of nicotine on stimulus sensitivity and response bias in a visual vigilance task. Neuropsychobiology 9:41–44Google Scholar
  114. Yellin AM (1980) A standard visual stimulus for use in studies on attention-deficit disorders: toward the development of standardized sustained and selective attention tests. Res Commun Psychol Psychiatr Behav 5:137–143Google Scholar
  115. Yu G, Maskray V, Jackson SHD, Swift CG Tiplady B (1991) A comparison of the central nervous system effects of caffeine and theophylline in elderly subjects. Br J Clin Pharmacol 32:341–345Google Scholar
  116. Zwyghuizen-Doorenbos A, Roehrs TA, Lipschutz L, Timms V, Roth T (1990) Effects of caffeine on alertness. Psychopharmacology 100:36–39Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. S. Koelega
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychopharmacology and Psychological LaboratoryUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations