We live in an increasingly competitive world where we are always looking to gain an advantage over our rivals, sometimes even our own colleagues. In some cases, it can push people to extreme, unethical and illegitimate methods – something we’ve seen recently in the doping scandal that has rocked the athletics world.

In a recent review paper, we found that people are using performance-enhancing drugs increasingly for common tasks, ranging from sitting examinations to giving presentations and conducting important negotiations. These “cognitive enhancers” – such as antidepressants, beta blockers (used to treat heart conditions or anxiety) or “smart drugs” – can boost energy and mood, helping us to perform better with less sleep. But is it safe for healthy individuals to take such drugs? And is it right?

Smart drugs include modafinil (commonly used to treat sleep disorders) and methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin (used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). These drugs make us more attentive, focused and awake, so it’s easy to see why they are so popular. In today’s knowledge economy, we need dynamic and flexible brains to excel in the workplace. Demanding jobs require us to be adaptable and able to make decisions under time pressure or high levels of risk. We need to be attentive, have good memory and great planning and problem-solving skills, but also the ability to read and understand others’ views. Maintaining motivation and resilience in difficult situations and under stress are also key.

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