Methylphenidate (0.65 mg/kg), droperidol (15 μg/kg) or placebo were administered to normal adult males undertaking a dichotic auditory attention task. Performance following placebo, as measured by the ability of subjects to detect nominated target words and discriminate them from phonemically distracting words, was superior when attention was focused on one ear than when divided between the ears. Following droperidol, target detection and discrimination were reduced for both divided and focused attention and in the latter case responses were also slowed. However, these effects were small compared to the striking withdrawn behaviour of the subjects, who reported an unwillingness to attend to external events. Methylphenidate reversed all of these effects when administered following droperidol. Administered alone, methylphenidate had no effect on dichotic measures of attention but had marked effects on spontaneous behaviour, when most subjects reported a substantial increase in both the field and distractibility of attention. These results are interpreted as implicating central dopaminergic pathways in the regulation of attention without precluding a role for other neurotransmitter systems including ascending noradrenaline and serotonin pathways to cerebral cortex. The disparity between these objective and subjective assessments of the effects of the drugs on attention is discussed in terms of the degree of mental effort voluntarily brought to bear by subjects in the selective allocation of their attentional capacity.
- Dichotic monitoring