This Smart Drug Makes Creative People Dumber


A drug that many claim boosts the ability to study and pass exams seems to have the opposite effect on people who are smart and creative.

A University of Nottingham randomized double-blind study had researchers giving 32 participants the narcolepsy drug Modafinil and 32 people a placebo. Following, all participants took the Hayling Sentence Completion Test, which requires participants to respond quickly and accurately.

Modafinil slowed down reaction times, weakened the capability to respond in a timely manner, and did not improve performance.

“We looked at how the drug acted when you are required to respond accurately and in a timely manner,” says researcher Ahmed Dahir Mohamed. “Our findings were completely opposite to the results we expected.

It has been argued that Modafinil might improve your performance by delaying your ability to respond. It has been suggested this ‘delay dependent improvement’ might improve cognitive performance by making people less impulsive. We found no evidence to support those claims. Our research showed that when a task required instant reactions the drug just increased reaction times with no improvement to cognitive performance.”

Improvement for Non-creatives

The creativity of people who aren’t predominantly creative to start with showed some improvement, according to Mohamed, but people who are creative at the start are actually less so after taking the nootropic drug Modafinil.

“Our study backs up previous research that suggests psychostimulants improve people at the lower end of the spectrum in cognition whereas they impair people who are at the optimum level of cognitive function—healthy people for example,” says Mohamed. “It looks like Modafinil is not helpful for healthy individuals and it might even impair their ability to respond and might stifle their lateral thinking, while people who have some sort of deficiency in creativity are helped by the drug.”

Modafinil Global Smart Drug

Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting medication licenced for the treatment of narcolepsy, as well as several other disorders of wakefulness.

Experimental studies report that modafinil improves the performance of working memory and planning tasks in healthy volunteers, and in patients with neuropsychiatric disorders. These experimental findings have led researchers and media to suggest that modafinil may be acting as a neurocognitive enhancer, or “nootropic” drug in healthy individuals.

Globally, modafinil has revenue of more than US$700 million per year. Estimates are that around 90% of modafinil is predominantly used off-label by healthy, non-sleep deprived individuals who are aiming not to just get ‘high’, but as a “smart drug” or  to augment attention and wakefulness for improving their cognitive functioning, to boost academic or job performance.

  1. Mohamed AD, Lewis CR (2014). Modafinil Increases the Latency of Response in the Hayling Sentence Completion Test in Healthy Volunteers: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE 9(11): e110639. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110639
  2. Turner D, Robbins T, Clark L, Aron A, Dowson J, et al. (2003). Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology 165: 260–269. doi: 10.1007/s00213-003-1457-3

Last Updated on December 30, 2023