Importance of Ritalin
Importance of Ritalin
Ritalin enhances your ability to do tasks by making you more motivated. Importance of Ritalin.
A new study reveals how stimulants like Ritalin work in the brain and dispels some myths about its recreational use. Radboudumc and Brown University (USA) collaborated on a study that was published in the journal Science.
People tend to think that Ritalin and Adderall help them to focus. And they do, in some sense. But what this study shows is that they do so, in part, by increasing your cognitive motivation. Your perceived benefits of performing a demanding task are elevated, while the perceived costs are reduced. This effect is separate from any changes in actual ability.
Ritalin in the brain
Ritalin works by increasing the amount of dopamine released in the striatum. A brain region important for motivation, action, and cognition. Dopamine is a molecule that transports signals between nerve cells. Previous research has found that higher levels of dopamine motivate both humans and rodents to perform physically demanding tasks. The question was whether this was also the case for cognitive tasks: do the stimulants increase your ability to do something, or do they make you more motivated?
From observation to test
The study is inspire by an intriguing observation made by the Radboudumc team, led by professor Cognitive Neuropsychiatry Roshan Cools. A theme Stress-related disorders, about the efficacy of drugs that stimulate dopamine receptors (used in Parkinson’s disease, for example).The researchers wanted to find out if this was also true for methylphenidate. The active substance in drugs like Ritalin and Concerta that are used by so many people with ADHD. But also as smart pills by healthy people to enhance cognition and performance.
Cools from the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour set out to run an experiment using a model developed at Brown University. It suggests that dopamine changes the way the striatum emphasizes the benefits rather than the costs of completing physical and mental actions. She and her colleagues studied a group of healthy adults aged 18 to 43. They measured the normal dopamine levels of each participant (using a PET-scan), and then asked them if they would take part in a series of cognitively demanding tasks. Some of these tasks were easier than others, but with varying amounts of monetary rewards, those who took on the hardest tasks stood to make the most money.
The participants took part in the experiment three times: once after receiving a placebo, once after receiving methylphenidate, and once after receiving sulpiride, an antipsychotic drug that is thought to increase dopamine levels in low doses (at higher doses it is used to treat schizophrenia and major depressive disorder).
Cost versus benefit
The experiment’s results were consistent with the mathematical model. Those with lower dopamine levels made decisions that indicate they were more concerned with avoiding difficult cognitive work – in other words, they were more sensitive to the costs of completing the work. The group with high dopamine levels, on the other hand, was more sensitive to differences in the amount of money they could earn – in other words, they were more sensitive to differences in the amount of money they could earn. It did not matter whether the elevated dopamine levels were natural, or enhanced by the drugs.
The researchers hope their study helps future researchers and medical professionals better understand cognitive mechanisms. This allowing them to identify connections between dopamine levels and disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and schizophrenia.
Background: dopamine and decisions
Every person has a slightly different baseline dopamine level. But no dopamine level – high or low – is inherently superior to another. An active, high-dopamine person may take fulfilling, happiness-inducing risks, but they may also be more prone to injury; a risk-averse, low-dopamine person may avoid injuries and disappointments, but they may also miss out on adventures. And dopamine levels don’t necessarily stay the same from one day to the next. They may decrease in response to danger or lack of sleep, and they may increase when people feel safe and supported.
In other words, most people can rely on their natural dopamine levels to steer them in the right direction. Of course, previous research has shown that many people with particularly low dopamine levels. Also, including those with depression or ADHD, can benefit from dopamine-boosting stimulant medications. However, no medication can guarantee that it will improve the lives of those who are healthy and choose to use it recreationally. In fact, raising dopamine in someone who already has a high dopamine level may lead to poorer decisions. This is because every decision appears to have benefit, which may distract from the truly beneficial tasks.