Individuals who take Ritalin are significantly more aware of their mistakes, according to research at the University of Melbourne.
The study, led by Dr. Rob Hester from the Department of Psychological Sciences along with colleagues at the Queensland Brain Institute, evaluated how the brain monitors performance errors – specifically those of impulse control.
Researchers discovered that a single dose of methylphenidate (Ritalin) led to much stronger activity in the brain’s error monitoring network and intensified individuals’ awareness of their own mistakes. The drug works by increasing the levels of catecholamines in the brain.
The research shows that activity in parts of the brain that play a role in human error, including the dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL), differs depending on whether a person is aware of his or her performance errors.
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that methylphenidate promoted the conscious awareness of performance errors by strengthening activation differences within the dACC and IPL for both conscious and unconscious mistakes, compared to placebo and other comparison drugs.
The results show the potential of the drug in addressing problems of awareness and insight evident in a variety of neurologic and psychiatric conditions. A weakened awareness of mistakes has been linked to loss of insight in several clinical syndromes.
“For example, in conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, poor error awareness has been associated with delusions, paranoia and has been the cause of considerable distress to patients,” said Hester.
“Failing to recognize your own error at the time can account for the difference between your recollection and the reality that confronts you. Understanding the brain mechanisms that underlie how we become conscious of our mistakes is an important first step in improving error awareness, and potentially reducing these symptoms.”
Source: The University of Melbourne