Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement: Examining the Ethical Principles Guiding College Students’ Abstention
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To understand the ethical principles guiding college students’ abstention from pharmacological cognitive enhancement (PCE), and to determine the correlates associated with endorsing different principles.
One-stage cluster sampling was used to implement a paper-based survey among undergraduate students attending one university in the U.S. Thematic analysis was used to explore the ethical principles guiding PCE abstention. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were used to examine sociodemographic correlates associated with endorsed ethical principles.
Of the 499 eligible students who completed the survey (student response proportion: 94.7%), 259 students had a negative attitude towards PCE, did not engage in PCE, and provided reasons for abstention.
The thematic analysis resulted in the identification of eight themes, with respondents often endorsing more than one theme per response. The three themes most endorsed were non-malfeasance (i.e., avoiding PCE to prevent harm), disapproval of drugs (i.e., a moral opposition to substance use) and dosage beneficence (i.e., adhering to dosage guidance to promote health). The sociodemographic correlates associated with endorsing each theme varied across themes.
Students abstain from PCE for a multitude of reasons, many of which are guided by ethical principles. These findings may be incorporated into future prevention programming messages.
KeywordsCognitive enhancement Ethics Young adults
We wish to thank Sheena Cruz, Cassandra Schroeder, and Summer Takeda for their assistance with data collection.
Niloofar Bavarian: Developed the research question, assisted with data collection and data analysis, and developed first draft of manuscript.
Stephanie Sumstine: Assisted with data collection and data analysis, and made important edits to manuscript.
Jocelyne Mendez: Assisted with data collection and data analysis, and made important edits to manuscript.
Kyle Yomogida: Assisted with data analysis, literature review, and made important edits to manuscript.
Wilma Figueroa: Assisted with literature review and made important edits to manuscript.
Cammie Lam: Assisted with literature review and made important edits to manuscript.
This work was supported by the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership Research Stipend. This work was also supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers UL1GM118979, TL4GM118980, and RL5GM118978. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
We declare that we have no competing interests.
Research Involving Human Participants
This research involved human participants.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Specifically, a waiver of signed informed consent was attained (to protect anonymity).
All procedures performed involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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