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Students OK Adderal, But Not Steroids

College students feel taking performance enhancers for sports is worse behavior than using drugs to aid studying.


And totally justified! Photo via

By Bryan Le


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Riddle this: “Bill,” a college sprinter, didn't have enough time and focus to train, so he uses steroids and wins the competition. “Jeff,” a student, didn't have enough time and focus to study, so he uses Adderall and gets a good grade. Which performance-enhancing drug user is more unethical? Psychology researchers posed the question to 1,200 male Penn State freshmen, who overwhelmingly responded that Bill was the badder guy. This may be surprising on one level, considering our school grades shape our career futures, while few of use go on to become pro athletes. But psychologists have a theory as to why: sports are zero-sum, meaning if someone wins, someone else has to lose. But in academia, even if someone else gets an A, it doesn't detract from your own grade. Another factor that came into play was whether the students who were asked the question used memory-boosting drugs themselves—if they themselves popped performance pills, they were less likely to find Jeff's actions unethical. About 8% of the study participants reported non-medical use of a stimulant such as Adderall in the month prior to the survey, compared with fewer than 1% who had taken steroids. The students generally felt that intelligence is fixed—unlike muscles and athleticism—and can't be increased through brain-practice. A growing number of studies show this to be untrue.

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