Low doses of methylphenidate reduce hyperactivity and improve attention in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as in healthy humans and animals. Despite its extensive use, relatively little is known about its mechanisms of action. This study investigated the effects of methylphenidate on working memory performance, impulsivity, response accuracy and precision, and the ability to stay on task in rhesus monkeys using an oculomotor delayed response task. Methylphenidate affected task performance in an inverted-U manner in all three subjects tested. The improvements resulted from a reduction in premature responses and, importantly, not from improvement in the memory of target location. The length of time subjects participated in each session was also affected dose dependently. However, the dose at which the length of participation was maximally increased significantly impaired performance on the working memory task. This dissociation of effects has implications for the treatment of ADHD, for the nonprescription use of methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement, and for furthering the basic understanding of the neural substrate underlying these processes.

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