Attitudes Toward Cognitive Enhancer Use Among New Zealand Tertiary Students

Sanyogita (Sanya) Ram, Safeera Hussainy, Marcus Henning, Kay Stewart, Maree Jensen, Bruce Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Cognitive enhancement is the use of prescription stimulant medicines by healthy individuals for nonmedical use in academic settings. Commonly used cognitive enhancers (CEs) include methylphenidate, amphetamines, and modafinil. To understand the motivation to use CEs, it is important to look beyond prevalence and explore the extent to which attitudes, beliefs, and intentions predict the decision to use CEs. Objective: The study aimed to investigate what factors explain the decision to use CEs among tertiary students in New Zealand, using the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). 

Methods: Students from the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, Medicine, Law, and Accounting at a university in New Zealand were invited to complete a paper-based questionnaire. The questionnaire elicited students' attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived control toward illicit use of CEs using TPB. An exploratory factor analysis was conducted. 

Results: Response rate was 88.6% (442/499). Students who perceived CE use to be socially and ethically acceptable were more likely to use CEs (odds ratio, OR: 1.56, 95% confidence interval, 95% CI: 1.153–2.105, p = 0.004). Students who were concerned about the health impact of CE use were less likely to use CEs (OR: 0.54, 95% CI: 0.492–0.826, p = 0.001). Students who believed that CE use was approved were more likely to use them (OR: 1.648, CI: 1.193–2.278, p = 0.002). 

Conclusion: This research supports the notion that the decision to use CEs is not just an autonomous choice that occurs in isolation. Attitudes on the ethical and social acceptability of CE use were more likely to drive the decision to use CEs. The study provides the impetus for an integrative discussion by health care professionals and academics on the impact of attitudes, social norms, and advocates on the decision to use CEs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1387-1392
Number of pages6
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • amphetamine
  • attitudes
  • Cognitive enhancer
  • methylphenidate
  • modafinil
  • nonprescription stimulant medicines
  • theory of planned behavior

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