Psychoactively optimizing foraging behavior

Knowing when to say “stop” to an ongoing action and instead looking for other opportunities (i.e., foraging) is crucial for mental health. However, many people struggle with doing so. Sidorenko and colleagues investigated the effects of different drugs on foraging thereby showing the neural basis of optimal decision-making.

In the experiment, 160 participants received either nicotine (an agonist of the acetycholine receptor), reboxetine (a noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor used to treat depression), methylphenidate (a dopamine reuptake inhibitor in Ritalin used to treat ADHD), or a placebo. After taking the corresponding drug, they were asked to play the role of farmers collecting milk from different patches while the investigators observed how they foraged for milk. Given that the milk provided by each cow diminished over time, participants continuously had to decide when to stop and move on to the next patch.

The experiment showed that nicotine (and to some extent also reboxetine) optimized foraging, whereas methylphenidate had little effect.

These findings reveal that acetylcholine and noradrenaline play a role in human foraging behavior and offer new perspectives on treatments for psychiatric disorders associated with suboptimal use of resources.


Sidorenko, N., Chung, H.-K., Grueschow, M., Quednow, B. B., Hayward-Könnecke, H., Jetter, A., & Tobler, P. N. (2023). Acetylcholine and noradrenaline enhance foraging optimality in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120 (36).

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