When we enhance cognition with Adderall, do we sacrifice creativity? A preliminary study

An Erratum to this article was published on 07 March 2009

Abstract

Rationale

Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) is used by healthy normal individuals to enhance attention. Research with healthy normal participants and those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder indicate a possible inverse relationship between attentional function and creativity. This raises the possibility that Adderall could decrease creativity in people using it for cognitive enhancement.

Objective

This study was designed to find out whether Adderall impairs creativity in healthy young adults.

Material and methods

In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, the effects of Adderall on the performance of 16 healthy young adults were measured on four tests of creativity from the psychological literature: two tasks requiring divergent thought and two requiring convergent thought.

Results

Adderall affected performance on the convergent tasks only, in one case enhancing it, particularly for lower-performing individuals, and in the other case enhancing it for the lower-performing and impairing it for higher-performing individuals.

Conclusion

The preliminary evidence is inconsistent with the hypothesis that Adderall has an overall negative effect on creativity. Its effects on divergent creative thought cannot be inferred with confidence from this study because of the ambiguity of null results. Its effects on convergent creative thought appear to be dependent on the baseline creativity of the individual. Those in the higher range of the normal distribution may be unaffected or impaired, whereas those in the lower range of the normal distribution experience enhancement.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References

  1. Ackerman D (2004) An alchemy of mind. Simon & Schuster, New York

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ansburg PI, Hill K (2003) Creative and analytic thinkers differ in their use of attentional resources. Pers Individ Differ 34:1141–1152

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. de Wit H, Enggasser J, Richards J (2002) Acute administration of d-amphetamine decreases impulsivity in healthy volunteers. Neuropsychopharmacology 27:813–825

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Douglas VI, Barr RG, Desilets J, Sherman E (1995) Do high doses of stimulants impair flexible thinking in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder? J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 34:877–885

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Dykes M, McGhie A (1976) A comparative study of attentional strategies of schizophrenic and highly creative normal subjects. Br J Psychiatry 128:50–56

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Elliott R, Sahakian BJ, Matthews K, Bannerjea A, Rimmer J, Robbins TW (1997) Effects of methylphenidate on spatial working memory and planning in healthy young adults. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 131:196–206

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Farah MJ, Illes J, Cook-Deegan R, Gardner H, Kandel E, King P, Parens E, Sahakian B, Wolpe PR (2004) Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do. Nat Rev Neurosci 5:421–425

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Finke RA, Ward TB, Smith SM (1992) Creative cognition: theory, research and applications. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  9. Funk JB, Chessare JB, Weaver MT, Exley AR (1993) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, creativity, and the effects of methylphenidate. Pediatrics 91:816–819

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Goff T (2002) Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults Manual. Scholastic Testing Service, Bensenville, IL

    Google Scholar 

  11. Guilford JP (1957) Creative abilities in the arts. Psychol Rev 64:110–118

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Healey D, Rucklidge JJ (2006) An investigation into the relationship among ADHD symptomatology, creativity, and neuropsychological functioning in children. Child Neuropsychol 12:421–438

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Hyman S (2006) Improving our brains. BioSocieties 1:103–111

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kasof J (1997) Creativity and breadth of attention. Creat Res J 10:303–315

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Kimberg DY, D’Esposito M, Farah MJ (1997) Effects of bromocriptine on human subjects depend on working memory capacity. NeuroReport 8:3581–3585

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Maher B (2008) Poll results: look who’s doping. Nature 452:674–675

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Martindale B (1995) Childhood antecedents of schizophrenia. Environmental influences should not be ignored. BMJ 310:57

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Mattay VS, Callicott JH, Bertolino A, Heaton I, Frank JA, Coppola R, Berman KF, Goldberg TE, Weinberger DR (2000) Effects of dextroamphetamine on cognitive performance and cortical activation. NeuroImage 12:268–275

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Mattay VS, Goldberg TE, Fera F, Hariri AR, Tessitore A, Egan MF, Kolachana B, Callicott JH, Weinberger DR (2003) Catechol O-methyltransferase val158-met genotype and individual variation in the brain response to amphetamine. PNAS 100:6186–6191

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. McCabe SE, Knight JR, Teter CJ, Wechsler H (2005) Non-medical use of prescription stimulants among US college students: prevalence and correlates from a national survey. Addiction 100:96–106

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Mednick SA (1962) The associative basis of the creative process. Psychol Rev 69:220–232

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Mehta M, Owen A, Sahakian B, Mavaddat N, Pickard J, Robbins T (2000) Methylphenidate enhances working memory by modulating discrete frontal and parietal lobe regions in the human brain. J Neurosci 20:1–6

    Google Scholar 

  23. Noppe LD (1996) Progression in the service of the ego, cognitive styles, and creative thinking. Creativity Research Journal 9:28–42

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Palladino LJ (1999) Dreamers, discoverers and dynamos. Random House, New York

    Google Scholar 

  25. Rawlings S (1985) Behaviour and skills of severely retarded adults in hospitals and small residential homes. Br J Psychiatry 146:358–366

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Runco MA (2004) Creativity. Annu Rev Psychol 55:657–687

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Sahakian B, Morein-Zamir S (2007) Professor’s little helper. Nature 450:1157–1159

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Solanto MV, Wender EH (1989) Does methylphenidate constrict cognitive functioning. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 28:897–902

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Swartwood MO, Swartwood JN, Farrell J (2003) Stimulant treatment of ADHD: effects on creativity and flexibility in problem solving. Creat Res J 15:417–419

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Wallach M (1970) Creativity. In: Mussen P (ed) Carmichael’s handbook of child psychology. Wiley, New York, pp 1211–1272

    Google Scholar 

  31. Witkin HA, Oltman PK, Raskin E, Karp SA (2002) Group embedded figures test manual. Mind Garden, Redwood City, CA

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by ONR grant N000140710034 and NIH grants R01-HD043078 and R01-HD055689. The authors thank Geoff Aguirre for serving as medical monitor for this study and Trevor Robbins and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Martha J. Farah.

Additional information

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00213-009-1507-6

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Farah, M.J., Haimm, C., Sankoorikal, G. et al. When we enhance cognition with Adderall, do we sacrifice creativity? A preliminary study. Psychopharmacology 202, 541–547 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-008-1369-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Cognition
  • Creativity
  • Adderall
  • Amphetamine
  • Neuroethics
  • Enhancement