Why do we need a responsible cognitive enhancement?
Cognitive enhancement is the use of any (legitimate) means (e.g., meditation, smart drugs, brain stimulation, neurofeedback, physical exercise or food supplements) to reach one’s personal best. Cognitive enhancement can help to compensate for cognitive decline in the elderly, which would prolong the time people can live autonomously and, thus, reduce the welfare costs for the time thereafter. Along the same lines, training children could “accelerate” the education of healthy individuals and minimize the risk of behavioral deviance and pathology, again with considerable savings for welfare and education systems.
In my new article, I argue two things. First, only a theory-driven enhancement is a responsible cognitive enhancement, because only if we understand the mechanism of actions we can make effective prediction about the direction of the intended intervention and we are able to explain why in some cases an intervention is enhancing and in other cases is impairing cognitive functions. Keep in mind that we are different, first of all in terms of genetic profile. For example, food supplements that make me better, can be different from what makes you better, if our genetic profile is different.
Second, I believe that in order to achieve a responsible cognitive enhancement scientists should take an active role in evaluating the far-reaching, sweeping claims from media and/or industry. This is for example what we have done in two cases. With Laura Steenbergen, we tested whether the commercial transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) headset foc.us improves cognitive performance, as advertised in the media. We showed that prefrontal cortex stimulation delivered using the commercial foc.us tDCS headset (v.1) does not enhance, but impairs the ability to monitor and update information in working memory!
With Luisa Prochazkova, we tested the media claim that microdosing psychedelics is a “valid” cognitive enhancer given that, before us, no studies had investigated the quantitative effects of taking small doses of psychedelic substances and the claim was based only on anecdotal evidence. In this case, we found preliminary evidence that microdosing can be beneficial for creativity, but there is a lot of more that we need to do in order to exclude a potential placebo effect.
If you want to read more about my considerations, make sure to check out the published article!