Cognitive effects of methylphenidate in healthy volunteers: a review of single dose studies

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Jun;17(6):961-77. doi: 10.1017/S1461145713001594. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


Methylphenidate (MPH), a stimulant drug with dopamine and noradrenaline reuptake inhibition properties, is mainly prescribed in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is increasingly used by the general population, intending to enhance their cognitive function. In this literature review, we aim to answer whether this is effective. We present a novel way to determine the extent to which MPH enhances cognitive performance in a certain domain. Namely, we quantify this by a percentage that reflects the number of studies showing performance enhancing effects of MPH. To evaluate whether the dose-response relationship follows an inverted-U-shaped curve, MPH effects on cognition are also quantified for low, medium and high doses, respectively. The studies reviewed here show that single doses of MPH improve cognitive performance in the healthy population in the domains of working memory (65% of included studies) and speed of processing (48%), and to a lesser extent may also improve verbal learning and memory (31%), attention and vigilance (29%) and reasoning and problem solving (18%), but does not have an effect on visual learning and memory. MPH effects are dose-dependent and the dose-response relationship differs between cognitive domains. MPH use is associated with side effects and other adverse consequences, such as potential abuse. Future studies should focus on MPH specifically to adequately asses its benefits in relation to the risks specific to this drug.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects
  • Aging / psychology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Methylphenidate / adverse effects
  • Methylphenidate / pharmacology*
  • Nootropic Agents / adverse effects
  • Nootropic Agents / pharmacology*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Nootropic Agents
  • Methylphenidate