Validation of the human odor span task: effects of nicotine
Amongst non-smokers, nicotine generally enhances performance on tasks of attention, with limited effect on working memory. In contrast, nicotine has been shown to produce robust enhancements of working memory in non-humans.
To address this gap, the present study investigated the effects of nicotine on the performance of non-smokers on a cognitive battery which included a working memory task reverse-translated from use with rodents (the odor span task, OST). Nicotine has been reported to enhance OST performance in rats and the present study assessed whether this effect generalizes to human performance.
Thirty non-smokers were tested on three occasions after consuming either placebo, 2 mg, or 4 mg nicotine gum. On each occasion, participants completed a battery of clinical and experimental tasks of working memory and attention.
Nicotine was associated with dose-dependent enhancements in sustained attention, as evidenced by increased hit accuracy on the rapid visual information processing (RVIP) task. However, nicotine failed to produce main effects on OST performance or on alternative measures of working memory (digit span, spatial span, letter-number sequencing, 2-back) or attention (digits forward, 0-back). Interestingly, enhancement of RVIP performance occurred concomitant to significant reductions in self-reported attention/concentration. Human OST performance was significantly related to N-back performance, and as in rodents, OST accuracy declined with increasing memory load.
Given the similarity of human and rodent OST performance under baseline conditions and the strong association between OST and visual 0-back accuracy, the OST may be particular useful in the study of conditions characterized by inattention.
Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-017-4680-z
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