Self-Control Enhancement in Children: Ethical and Conceptual Aspects

  • Dorothee HorstkötterEmail author
Part of the Advances in Neuroethics book series (AIN)


Childhood self-control is currently receiving great scientific and public attention because it could predict much of adult’s life success and well-being. Specialized interventions based on findings in social psychology and neuroscience potentially enhance children’s capacity to exercise self-control. This perspective triggers hopes that self-control enhancement allows us to say good-bye for good to potentially unsafe psychopharmacological agents and electronic brain stimulants. This chapter provides an in-depth ethical analysis of pediatric self-control enhancement and points toward a series of serious conceptual and ethical concerns. First, it gives an overview of current psychological as well as neuroscientific research on self-control, and it presents longitudinal studies that emphasize the importance of childhood self-control for adult life success. Second, it critically discusses the concept of self-control presupposed in these approaches and points to crucial limitations. Going beyond an understanding of self-control as a sophisticated means of goal-achievement, I will argue for a comprehensive understanding that takes the inherent normativity of self-controlled behavior seriously. In that context, self-control enhancement appears as not necessarily desirable and occasionally even detrimental. Finally, this chapter questions the notion of childhood implicit in current research and how values typically put on this phase of life could get affected by self-control enhancement. I finish with an exploration of the conditions under which pediatric self-control enhancement is either impermissible, permissible, or maybe obligatory.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health Ethics and SocietySchool of Mental Health and Neuroscience (MHeNS), Maastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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