What Do People Expect of Cognitive Enhancement?
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Enhancing cognitive function through mentally challenging exercises (“brain training”) or non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) is an enticing yet controversial prospect. Although use of these methods is increasing rapidly, their effectiveness remains questionable. Notably, cognitive enhancement studies have typically failed to consider participants’ expectations. However, high expectations could easily make brain-training approaches appear more effective than they actually are. We addressed this major gap in the literature by assessing the perceived effectiveness of brain training and NIBS in a series of surveys. Our results suggest that people are optimistic about the possibilities of cognitive enhancement, particularly through brain training. Moreover, reading a brief message implying high or low effectiveness of such methods can raise or lower expectations, respectively, suggesting that perceptions of brain training are malleable—at least in the short term. Measuring expectations in brain training and NIBS is important to determining whether these cognitive enhancement methods truly are effective.
KeywordsBrain training Cognitive enhancement Demand characteristics Expectation Intervention design Non-invasive brain stimulation Placebo effect
We thank Thomas Vitale for help with data collection as well as members of the Neuropsychology Laboratory at the University of Ottawa and the Boot Lab at the Florida State University.
We acknowledge the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de Recherche Québec-Santé, the Ontario Graduate Scholarships, and the National Institute on Aging—National Institutes of Health (NIA 2P01AG017211-16A1, Project CREATE IV-Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement) for their support of this work.
S.R. and P.S.R.D. designed the study and developed the instrument based on previous work from W.R.B. Data collection in Ottawa and via web-based tools was performed by S.R. and P.S.R.D., while R.A. and W.R.B. collected data from Tallahassee. S.R. and P.S.R.D. analyzed the data, drafted the document, and finalized it based on edits from R.A. and W.R.B. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.
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