Prescription Stimulants' Effects on Healthy Inhibitory Control, Working Memory, and Episodic Memory: A Meta-analysis

J Cogn Neurosci. 2015 Jun;27(6):1069-89. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00776. Epub 2015 Jan 15.


The use of prescription stimulants to enhance healthy cognition has significant social, ethical, and public health implications. The large number of enhancement users across various ages and occupations emphasizes the importance of examining these drugs' efficacy in a nonclinical sample. The present meta-analysis was conducted to estimate the magnitude of the effects of methylphenidate and amphetamine on cognitive functions central to academic and occupational functioning, including inhibitory control, working memory, short-term episodic memory, and delayed episodic memory. In addition, we examined the evidence for publication bias. Forty-eight studies (total of 1,409 participants) were included in the analyses. We found evidence for small but significant stimulant enhancement effects on inhibitory control and short-term episodic memory. Small effects on working memory reached significance, based on one of our two analytical approaches. Effects on delayed episodic memory were medium in size. However, because the effects on long-term and working memory were qualified by evidence for publication bias, we conclude that the effect of amphetamine and methylphenidate on the examined facets of healthy cognition is probably modest overall. In some situations, a small advantage may be valuable, although it is also possible that healthy users resort to stimulants to enhance their energy and motivation more than their cognition.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / pharmacology
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Executive Function / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects*
  • Methylphenidate / pharmacology
  • Publication Bias


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methylphenidate
  • Amphetamine