Original Article

Neuropsychopharmacology (2000) 22, 200–209. doi:10.1016/S0893-133X(99)00098-6

Nicotine Impairs Spatial Working Memory while Leaving Spatial Attention Intact

Sohee Park Ph.D1, Christopher Knopick BA1, Susan McGurk Ph.D2 and Herbert Y Meltzer MD3

  1. 1Department of Psychology and Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL USA
  2. 2Pilgrim Psychiatry Center, West Brentwood, NY USA
  3. 3Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN USA

Correspondence: Dr Sohee Park Ph.D., Department of Psychology and Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, 2029 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208–2710

Received 15 April 1999; Revised 21 July 1999; Accepted 6 August 1999



We investigated the effects of nicotine on spatial working memory and spatial selective attention in young, healthy smokers. Spatial working memory was assessed by a delayed response task. Delayed response performance is associated with the integrity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Spatial interference and negative priming tasks were used to assess spatial selective attention. Nicotine impaired spatial working memory in smokers but it did not affect spatial selective attention. This result suggests that nicotine may impair dorsolateral prefrontal function, as assessed by the spatial working memory task in young smokers and that this deficit does not stem from impairments in spatial selective attention. However, the effects of nicotine on working memory and selective attention in nonsmokers or in psychiatric population with suspected nicotinic receptor abnormalities (e.g., schizophrenia patients) cannot be deduced from the present study.


Nicotine; Cholinergic; Working memory; Attention; Negative priming; Frontal lobe

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