Catecholamine-enhancing psychostimulants, such as methylphenidate have long been argued to undermine creative thinking. However, prior evidence for this is weak or contradictory, stemming from studies with small sample sizes that do not consider the well-established large variability in psychostimulant effects across different individuals and task demands. We aimed to definitively establish the link between psychostimulants and creative thinking by measuring effects of methylphenidate in 90 healthy participants on distinct creative tasks that measure convergent and divergent thinking, as a function of individuals’ baseline dopamine synthesis capacity, indexed with 18F-FDOPA PET imaging. In a double-blind, within-subject design, participants were administered methylphenidate, placebo or selective D2 receptor antagonist sulpiride. The results showed that striatal dopamine synthesis capacity and/or methylphenidate administration did not affect divergent and convergent thinking. However, exploratory analysis demonstrated a baseline dopamine-dependent effect of methylphenidate on a measure of response divergence, a creativity measure that measures response variability. Response divergence was reduced by methylphenidate in participants with low dopamine synthesis capacity but enhanced in those with high dopamine synthesis capacity. No evidence of any effect of sulpiride was found. These results show that methylphenidate can undermine certain forms of divergent creativity but only in individuals with low baseline dopamine levels.
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All task code is available at https://github.com/zceydas/VICI_Creativity; data is available upon request from the authors.
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This work was supported by a Vici grant to R.C. from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO; Grant No. 453-14-015).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Sayalı, C., van den Bosch, R., Määttä, J.I. et al. Methylphenidate undermines or enhances divergent creativity depending on baseline dopamine synthesis capacity. Neuropsychopharmacol. 48, 1849–1858 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-023-01615-2