, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 93–106 | Cite as

Reasons for Comfort and Discomfort with Pharmacological Enhancement of Cognitive, Affective, and Social Domains

  • Laura Y. CabreraEmail author
  • Nicholas S. Fitz
  • Peter B. Reiner
Original Paper


The debate over the propriety of cognitive enhancement evokes both enthusiasm and worry. To gain further insight into the reasons that people may have for endorsing or eschewing pharmacological enhancement (PE), we used empirical tools to explore public attitudes towards PE of twelve cognitive, affective, and social (CAS) domains (e.g., attention, mood, creativity). Participants (N = 1,408) from Canada and the United States were recruited using Mechanical Turk and were randomly assigned to read one (and only one) vignette that described an individual who uses a pill to enhance a single domain. After reading the vignette, participants were asked how comfortable they were with the individual using the enhancement. People were significantly more comfortable when they read about enhancement of certain CAS domains (e.g. creativity) than others (e.g. mood). We found a modest negative correlation between comfort level and the degree to which the PE was perceived as changing core features of the person. We also found a modest correlation between comfort level and the degree to which the PE was perceived as improving success in life. Finally, using a sequential mixed method technique, we found that participants who felt uncomfortable about PE use overwhelmingly focused on a lack of need and, to a lesser degree, expressed concerns about safety; those who felt comfortable about PE use most frequently mentioned the safety of the pill and its ability to provide a positive outcome. The data provide novel insights into public enthusiasms and concerns over the use of PE.


Enhancement Experimental neuroethics Public attitudes Cognitive Social Affective 



We thank Jordan Mowat for his work as a second coder.

Supplementary material

12152_2014_9222_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (166 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 165 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Y. Cabrera
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nicholas S. Fitz
    • 1
  • Peter B. Reiner
    • 1
  1. 1.National Core for NeuroethicsThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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