13 June 2023

Methylphenidate (MPH) is a widely used cognitive-enhancing drug, especially in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is known for its ability to improve focus. However, the increasing use of psychostimulants like MPH as "smart drugs" among healthy individuals has raised concerns about potential trade-offs, particularly in the realm of creativity. Anecdotal observations suggest that the enhanced focus associated with MPH may come at the expense of impaired creative thinking.

To shed light on this paradoxical effect of smart drugs on cognition, Ceyda Sayalı, Ruben van den Bosch, Jessica Määttä, Lieke Hofmans, Danae Papadopetraki, Jan Booij, Robbert-Jan Verkes, Matthijs Baas, and Roshan Cools aimed to definitively establish the link between psychostimulants and cognitive function. The study investigated the effects of MPH on creative task performance and its interaction with individual differences in baseline dopamine synthesis capacity.

Ninety healthy participants were enrolled in the study and completed a series of distinct creative tasks, evaluating both convergent (focused) and divergent (outside-the-box) creative thinking. Contrary to prior assumptions, the results demonstrated that the administration of MPH did not significantly impact overall creative task performance when effects were averaged across the group. However, a noteworthy finding emerged: Effects of MPH on creative task performance varied greatly between different individuals depending on their baseline levels of dopamine. The drug impaired a form of divergent creativity in participants with low baseline dopamine levels, while it enhanced divergent creativity in those with high baseline dopamine levels. These effects were not seen for convergent forms of creativity.

Thus, MPH does not undermine all forms of creativity in everyone. Instead, the use of MPH may impair specific forms of creative thinking in specific individuals. The study underscores the intricate interplay between psychostimulant effects, task demands, and individual neurochemical profiles.

This research substantially contributes to our understanding of the cognitive and neurochemical mechanisms underlying the effects of smart drugs on creativity. While further investigation is necessary to fully comprehend the complex relationship between psychostimulants, dopamine levels, and creative thinking, this study provides valuable insights into the potential consequences associated with the use of smart drugs.


Sayalı, C., van den Bosch, R., Määttä, J. I., Hofmans, L., Papadopetraki, D., Booij, J., ... & Cools, R. (2023). Methylphenidate undermines or enhances divergent creativity depending on baseline dopamine synthesis capacity. Neuropsychopharmacology, 1-10.

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