Survey on the use of “smart drugs” in the finance industry

26 September 2017

By guest contributor Dr. Elizabeth Bowman, University of Melbourne


Anecdotal evidence suggests more people working in parts of the financial services industry are using “smart drugs” with the aim of boosting their cognitive performance. However, little is known about the extent of this use.

To that end, the Brain, Mind and Markets Laboratory at the University of Melbourne is conducting the first-ever survey of the use of “smart drugs” in the Australian financial services industry. The confidential and anonymous survey takes between five to ten minutes to complete online.

“Smart drugs” are medications or substances used to try to improve cognitive functions. People might take such substances in an attempt to increase mental alertness and concentration, fight fatigue, focus attention, reduce anxiety and stress, or generally boost energy levels and wakefulness. The drugs the laboratory is interested in include prescription-only medications such as Ritalin or Provigil, over-the-counter substances such as caffeine or nicotine and illicit drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines.

While there has been some scientific research performed in controlled conditions on how these substances influence basic cognitive tasks, these studies often show quite mixed results on even basic functions. Many professions, including medicine and finance, require creative decision-making approaches to what are often computationally-complex and intractable problems. It is still unknown if these drugs can help or hinder this kind of problem solving.

There have been studies in Australia and internationally that have surveyed the use of these drugs in populations such as university students, medical students and surgeons. However, there has not yet been an investigation of the use of these medications in the highly competitive and diverse world of finance.

This survey aims to develop a picture of how these kinds of drugs are used in different sectors of the financial industry and perceptions of their positive and negative effects. It asks what people might know about the use of smart drugs in their working environment and what kinds of effects they are thought to have. Different sectors of the financial industry require very different skill sets and approaches to problem solving, so it is also possible that different drugs are more or less frequently seen in these different sectors.

This research is being jointly led by Dr Elizabeth Bowman, Dr Carsten Murawski and Professor Peter Bossaerts. Professor Bossaerts and Dr Murawski established the Brain, Mind and Markets Laboratory in 2016 to bring together a multi-disciplinary team to study financial decision-making and market behaviour.

The laboratory is unique in the world and it brings together research in finance and economics, neuroscience and computer science to better understand how individuals to make decisions, how markets process information and how humans and computer algorithms influence each other in decision-making environments.

YieldReport readers are invited to take part in this research by completing the confidential and anonymous survey. The survey has been approved by the University of Melbourne Human Research Ethics Committee, takes only five to ten minutes to complete and all responses are completely anonymous.

Please click here to take part in the survey.