This article selectively reviews research concerning nicotine's effects on cognition, including the neurobiological mechanism for these effects, task and experimental features that may be important for elucidating these effects, and why these effects may have amplified motivational significance among smokers with cognitive deficit. Nicotine has effects on various cognitive processes, though most studies in humans have focused on the amelioration of cognitive deficits experienced during drug withdrawal. The direct cognitive-enhancing effect of nicotine remains a controversial topic. The relationship between attentional and non-attentional cognitive effects of nicotine is discussed in the context of cognitive self-medication. Further research should include theory-driven examination of cognitive effects of nicotine, and develop targeted smoking cessation programs based on an improved understanding of the role of cognitive self-medication in high-risk individuals.