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Modeling students’ instrumental (mis-) use of substances to enhance cognitive performance: Neuroenhancement in the light of job demands-resources theory

Wanja Wolff1, Ralf Brand1*, Franz Baumgarten1, Johanna Lösel1 and Matthias Ziegler2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Sport and Exercise Psychology, University Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, 14469 Potsdam, Germany

2 Psychological Institute, Humboldt University of Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany

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BioPsychoSocial Medicine 2014, 8:12  doi:10.1186/1751-0759-8-12

Published: 26 May 2014



Healthy university students have been shown to use psychoactive substances, expecting them to be functional means for enhancing their cognitive capacity, sometimes over and above an essentially proficient level. This behavior called Neuroenhancement (NE) has not yet been integrated into a behavioral theory that is able to predict performance. Job Demands Resources (JD-R) Theory for example assumes that strain (e.g. burnout) will occur and influence performance when job demands are high and job resources are limited at the same time. The aim of this study is to investigate whether or not university students’ self-reported NE can be integrated into JD-R Theory’s comprehensive approach to psychological health and performance.


1,007 students (23.56 ± 3.83 years old, 637 female) participated in an online survey. Lifestyle drug, prescription drug, and illicit substance NE together with the complete set of JD-R variables (demands, burnout, resources, motivation, and performance) were measured. Path models were used in order to test our data’s fit to hypothesized main effects and interactions.


JD-R Theory could successfully be applied to describe the situation of university students. NE was mainly associated with the JD-R Theory’s health impairment process: Lifestyle drug NE (p < .05) as well as prescription drug NE (p < .001) is associated with higher burnout scores, and lifestyle drug NE aggravates the study demands-burnout interaction. In addition, prescription drug NE mitigates the protective influence of resources on burnout and on motivation.


According to our results, the uninformed trying of NE (i.e., without medical supervision) might result in strain. Increased strain is related to decreased performance. From a public health perspective, intervention strategies should address these costs of non-supervised NE. With regard to future research we propose to model NE as a means to reach an end (i.e. performance enhancement) rather than a target behavior itself. This is necessary to provide a deeper understanding of the behavioral roots and consequences of the phenomenon.

Neuroenhancement; Study demands; Burnout; Job demands resources theory; Students