skip to content

Faculty of Economics

Journal Cover

Bowman, E., Coghill, D., Murawski, C. and Bossaerts, P.

Not so smart? “Smart” drugs increase the level but decrease the quality of cognitive effort

Science Advances

Vol. 9(24) (2023)

Abstract: The efficacy of pharmaceutical cognitive enhancers in everyday complex tasks remains to be established. Using the knapsack optimization problem as a stylized representation of difficulty in tasks encountered in daily life, we discover that methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and modafinil cause knapsack value attained in the task to diminish significantly compared to placebo, even if the chance of finding the optimal solution (~50%) is not reduced significantly. Effort (decision time and number of steps taken to find a solution) increases significantly, but productivity (quality of effort) decreases significantly. At the same time, productivity differences across participants decrease, even reverse, to the extent that above-average performers end up below average and vice versa. The latter can be attributed to increased randomness of solution strategies. Our findings suggest that “smart drugs” increase motivation, but a reduction in quality of effort, crucial to solve complex problems, annuls this effect.

Author links: Peter Bossaerts  

Publisher's Link:

Papers and Publications

Recent Publications

Bhattacharya, D. and Shvets, J. Inferring Trade-Offs in University Admissions: Evidence from Cambridge Journal of Political Economy, accepted [2023]

Merrick Li, Z. and Linton, O. A ReMeDI for Microstructure Noise Econometrica [2022]

Gallo, E. and Yan, C. Efficiency and Equilibrium in Network Games: An Experiment Review of Economics and Statistics [2023]

Ding, Y. A Simple Joint Model for Returns, Volatility and Volatility of Volatility Journal of Econometrics [2023]