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Exploring the Aetiology and Effects of Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement use in UK University Students.

Tully, J (2020) Exploring the Aetiology and Effects of Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement use in UK University Students. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Media claims suggest that use of pharmacological cognitive enhancers (PCE) in UK universities is significant and is increasing, though academic research has come to less consistent conclusions. While there has been expansion of research in this area, the public health impact of long-term PCE use, including the potential for adverse effects to cognitive, neurological and physiological functioning remains unclear. Consequently, this thesis aimed to investigate the aetiology and long-term effects of PCE use in some UK universities. Study 1 aimed to investigate CE use in four UK universities, including: which substances are commonly used, the reasons for use and which factors relate to consumption. Here, caffeinated products were the most popular, followed by modafinil. Furthermore, several sociodemographic and personality variables were part of a statistical model to predict CE use, although only gender, age and moral perceptions of modafinil use were found to be significant. Study 2 focussed on modafinil as the most popular PCE aiming to assess the long-term impact (> 3 months) of use on executive functioning by administering various cognitive performance measures. Despite no behavioural differences on the 2-back (working memory) and the continuous performance task (sustained attention), modafinil users responded to both horizontal and vertical cues more quickly than nonusers on the cued go/no-go task (inhibitory control) without experiencing an accuracy trade-off or performance decrement. To investigate the neural substrates of any potential cognitive deficits, Study 3 assessed cognitive and neurophysiological processes by using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, electrocardiogram and a digital sphygmomanometer alongside cognitive performance measures designed to increase cognitive workload. It was found that there were no behavioural performance differences on easy and difficult variants of the multitasking framework (stressor) or 3-back (working memory) between groups, but users experienced significantly lower systolic blood pressure across the tasks and greater haemodynamic change during the 3-back. Blood pressure indicated that users appeared 11 | P a g e less physiologically aroused during performance measures, but increased haemodynamic response compared with controls revealed possible underlying cognitive deficits. Taken as a whole, modafinil appears to be the most popular PCE in the UK for university students, and long-term use unexpectedly revealed enhanced inhibitory control but possible deficits to working memory performance. This research consolidates previous claims about modafinil as the most popular PCE among UK university students. Furthermore, this is the first study to investigate long-term modafinil use and establish behavioural and neurophysiological differences with nonusers.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Cognitive enhancers; Nootropics; Cognitive enhancement; neuroenhancement; Modafinil; fNIRS; Neuroimaging; Psychopharmacology; Psychophysiology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RM Therapeutics. Pharmacology
Divisions: Psychology (from Sep 2019)
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2020 11:12
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2022 11:14
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00013699
Supervisors: Montgomery, C, Fairclough, S and Sumnall, H
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13699
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