An international team of researchers has revealed the views held by the citizens of Europe and the United States on the hypothetical use of “neuroenhancement” techniques among academics and professionals. The term “neuroenhancement” refers to the application, in healthy people, of a technique or substance to improve a strategic cognitive ability, such as memory, concentration, calculation, etc. The use of these technologies is not usually questioned when applied in the treatment of diseases. The difference this research contributes is that what it explores is what the general population thinks about its use and research in healthy people.

The study was led by Imre Bard of the London School of Economics and Political Science (England) and involved Gema Revuelta, director of Pompeu Fabra University Studies Center on Science, Communication and Society (CCS) and Núria Saladié, a researcher at the same centre.

The study is part of the European project Neuroenhancement and Responsible Research and Innovation (NERRI) and has been published in the journal Neuroethics. The research consisted of an online survey on a representative sample of 11,716 people from 10 European countries and the United States. To draw up the questions of the questionnaire, the researchers based themselves on the major issues, concerns and visions that emerged spontaneously in the more than 60 informal citizen participation activities that were carried out in the framework of the NERRI project during the previous two years in different European cities. This led to the drafting of a questionnaire that is divided into two parts. The first presented a series of “vignettes” or hypothetical situations in which a person took a decision and the respondent was asked whether in the place of the protagonist s/he would have taken the same decision or not. In the second part of the questionnaire, the respondent had to award their degree of conformity with 14 statements concerning neuroenhancement.

In the “vignettes” on which the first part of the survey was based, a situation was posed in which a protagonist with certain characteristics (gender, age, etc.) faced a dilemma (e.g., failing an exam or losing a job) and made a decision to solve it that involved either receiving a neuroenhancement technique or not (for example, taking a tablet or applying electrical brain stimulation by means of an extracraneal device). Thus it was assessed how the acceptance of neuroenhancement by participants could vary according to the gender and the supposed abilities of the protagonist, the perceived effectiveness of the effects of the technique or the type of “neuroenhancer” used (pill versus electrical stimulation).

The research results show that, in general, the scenarios in which the effectiveness of the device was supposedly higher and the subject’s abilities lower were better accepted by the public. Conversely, in cases where the supposed ability of the protagonist of the vignette was already good, the respondents were not so much in favour of further enhancement.

In the second part of the survey, the participants were asked whether they agreed with a series of statements about neuroenhancement. In general, over 70% of the participants stated that neuroenhancement should not be used in children and that it is important that for its application to be supervised by the public authorities. In addition, the researchers noted clear generational differences, since younger participants showed greater support for the use of these devices.

Various statistical techniques were used to identify two types of positioning: one more cautious and social, and the other more proactive and individual. The outlook characterized by a societal protective attitude, more reluctant to the use of neuroenhancement, is aware of the consequences and fears that it may threaten social cohesion. The more individual and proactionary vision supports its use and emphasizes the opportunities that these technologies represent, since they enable society to meet future challenges. “But for most people, these visions were not exclusive, which suggests that often neuroenhancement can be considered an opportunity for the future and at the same time a cautious attitude can be adopted towards its use”, concludes Gema Revuelta.

Reference article:

Imre Bard, George Gaskell, Agnes Allansdottir, Rui Vieira da Cunha, Peter Eduard, Juergen Hampel, Elisabeth Hildt, Christian Hofmaier, Nicole Kronberger, Sheena Laursen, Anna Meijknecht, Salvör Nordal, Alexandre Quintanilha, Gema Revuelta, Núria Saladié, Judit Sándor, Júlio Borlido Santos, Simone Seyringer, Ilina Singh, Han Somsen, Winnie Toonders, Helge Torgersen, Vincent Torre, Márton Varju, Hub Zwart. Bottom Up Ethics – Neuroenhancement in Education and Employment. Neuroethics, May 2018.


Este blog cuenta con la colaboración de la Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología – Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación