The idea that there’s a pill out there that could make a person smarter and more capable is both appealing and disturbing at the same time. But the success of recent films like “Limitless” and “Lucy” has brought the idea to the mainstream.
These so-called smart drugs aren’t anything new. As a matter of fact, the word “nootropics” as these drugs are sometimes are called was invented way back in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist. Since then, cognitive enhancers have only been gaining popularity.
And while in Hollywood, these pills basically grant you superpowers in a matter pf seconds, in real life both college students (11% of them in fact) and professionals from all across the world have been experimenting with different over-the-counter drugs in an effort to improve their cognitive abilities.
The Most Recent Discoveries
Until now, whenever medical researchers investigated the effects those drugs have on people’s mental capacity. However, just a couple of months ago, a study published in the Journal of European Neuropsychopharmacology discovered that these drugs may in fact have some cognitive benefits.
The researchers revealed that drugs like Progvil and Ritalin can noticeably improve the performance of chess players. Those subjects who took the actual drugs were able to perform the mental calculations needed to play the game, however, the researchers also discovered some side effects as well…
Better Thinking – Slower Reaction Time
The study we mentioned above included forty above-average players, all of whom were men in their early forties with an average IQ of 127.7. furthermore, the average ELO rating of the group – the system used to determine the player’s chess skills – was around 1670.
This rating makes them a few noticeable levels above novice, although not quite master level either. The researchers had the players take a dose of either Ritalin, Progvil, caffeine or a placebo before playing a series of chess matches against a computer.
First, they played ten games in the morning, then took another dose of whatever drug or substance they’ve been randomly assigned to take that day and played another ten games in the late afternoon. In total, the forty players played more than 3,000 chess games during the week-long experiment.
And when researchers examined the data, they discovered that players on cognitive-enhancing drugs did up to 8% better than those on placebos. These numbers were enough to see a trend, but not actually enough to be statistically significant.
But the results also revealed that those who’ve taken the drugs were much slower – they spend more time thinking about their moves and reacting slower to the moves of their opponents. As this Business Insider article explains it – the drugs basically made them worse at time management.
Defining the Word “Smarter”
At the end of the day, the researchers still thought that people can actually benefit from cognitive-enhancing drugs, although people who think slower may in fact perform time-restricted tasks even worse than before. All in all, it’s actually a double-edged sword.
The key here is not discovering whether smart drugs improve our capabilities, but determining what sort of abilities are being improved here. The problem is, the test results we have at the moment have been looking at just one component of cognition and looking if everything was working properly.
According to researcher from Oxford University, in order to find out just how effective these drugs are and how can they benefit us in real-life situations, we need more research. We should also spend more time analyzing how healthy people react to them, because they account for the majority of users.
Nonetheless, this study has discovered that drugs like the Lucid smart pill indeed have a positive effect on our overly-complex thought process. But if you’re a chess player, what does this mean for you? Are cognitive pills going to be banned in the future?
The Bottom Line
Well, chances are, organizations are going to start drug-testing chess players in the near future to see if they’ve taken any cognitive-enhancers in the near future. But for now, the FDA still regards them as dietary supplements, so you’re still safe for the time being….
And for the rest of the world… All of us should start thinking about our feeling on these cognitive enhancers. As you see, these drugs may actually be able to convert the shallow thinkers among us into deeper and smarter thinkers… Although somewhat slower ones…