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J Psychopharmacol. 2017 Feb;31(2):243-249. doi: 10.1177/0269881116668591. Epub 2016 Sep 27.

Modafinil alters decision making based on feedback history - a randomized placebo-controlled double blind study in humans.

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1 Institute for Experimental Psychology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany.
2 Experimental Psychology & Methods, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.
3 Methodology and Evaluation, International Psychoanalytic University Berlin, Germany.
4 Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Preventive Medicine, LWL University Hospital, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.


Modafinil is becoming increasingly popular as a cognitive enhancer. Research on the effects of modafinil on cognitive function have yielded mixed results, with negative findings for simple memory and attention tasks and enhancing effects for more complex tasks. In the present study we examined whether modafinil, due to its known effect on the dopamine level in the striatum, alters feedback-related choice behaviour. We applied a task that separately tests the choice of previously rewarded behaviours (approach) and avoidance of previously punished behaviours. 18 participants received a single dose of 200 mg modafinil. Their performance was compared to a group of 22 participants who received placebo in a double-blind design. Modafinil but not placebo induced a significant bias towards approach behaviour as compared to the frequency of avoidance behaviour. General attention, overall feedback-based acquisition of choice behaviour and reaction times in high vs low conflict choices were not significantly affected by modafinil. This finding suggests that modafinil has a specific effect on dopamine-mediated choice behaviour based on the history of feedback, while a contribution of noradrenaline is also conceivable. The described change in decision making cannot be considered as cognitive enhancement, but might rather have detrimental effects on decisions in everyday life.


Modafinil; learning; punishment; reward

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