Nicotine effects on alertness and spatial attention in non-smokers

Nicotine Tob Res. 2002 May;4(2):185-94. doi: 10.1080/14622200210123617.


Nicotine reportedly improves covert orienting of spatial attention, but enhanced alertness may also play a role. The present study explored nicotine effects on measures of spatial attention and alertness in non-smokers. Nicotine was delivered to 17 non-smokers (data from 12 subjects were analyzed) by a 7-mg transdermal patch (one patch in a low-nicotine condition; two patches in a high-nicotine condition). We examined nicotine's effects on spatial attention using a covert orienting task with central, predictive cue stimuli. Nicotine effects on alertness were examined with EEG and subjective questionnaires. Blood was drawn and serum levels of nicotine are reported. Nicotine decreased overall reaction times in the covert orienting task. There was no change in the validity effect, the reaction time difference between validly and invalidly cued targets. However, nicotine significantly improved both EEG and self-rated measures of alertness. We conclude that nicotine increases alertness in non-smokers, but we found no improvement in spatial attention using a covert orienting task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Ganglionic Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Orientation
  • Space Perception / drug effects*


  • Ganglionic Stimulants
  • Nicotine