Public Perceptions of Prescription Drug Use for Cognitive Enhancement in Healthy Children and Adolescents

  • Sebastian SattlerEmail author
  • Jonathan Wörn
Part of the Advances in Neuroethics book series (AIN)


Giving prescription drugs to healthy young people for so-called cognitive enhancement (CE) (e.g., of concentration or memory) is being discussed increasingly by scholars and the public. This includes debates about whether, given its potential side effects, CE should be restricted and whether peer pressure infringes upon autonomous decisionmaking. To date, however, virtually no empirical studies of the public’s perception regarding CE in healthy young people exist.

We conducted a secondary analysis of data from a web-based survey of 1427 persons from 60 countries, conducted by the magazine Nature, in which the data had only been analyzed descriptively. To gain a better understanding of influences on attitudes about CE of young children, we explored factors (e.g., types of drug users, positive or negative experiences with prior CE-drugs) potentially associated with restrictions and peer pressure.

The majority of respondents (85.3%) favored restricting CE-drug use for healthy young people under age 16. We found that respondents who had experienced side effects when using CE-drugs themselves were more likely to favor restrictions. One third of the respondents (33.8%) would feel pressure to give their children CE-drugs if their children’s classmates were taking such drugs. Respondents who were willing to use CE-drugs for themselves felt more pressure to give such drugs to their children if others did so.

In addition to a more far-reaching use of the data, which can increase our knowledge of public perceptions of CE-drug use by young people, we also discuss multiple methodological caveats about the data and directions for future research.


Cognitive enhancement Peer pressure Drug regulation Pediatric cognitive enhancement Public perceptions 



The research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, via The Enhancing Life Project. We thank Brendan Maher for providing us with the survey data from the Nature poll and helpful information about the survey. We also thank the participants of the interdisciplinary research week Pediatric Neuro-Enhancement held in Osnabrück in 2016 as well as Simon Lesage Rousseau for their comments. Thanks to Cynthia Hall for editorial assistance.

Conflict of Interest: None.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Sociology and Social PsychologyUniversity of CologneCologneGermany
  2. 2.Institut de Recherches Cliniques de MontréalMontréalCanada
  3. 3.DFG Research Training Group SOCLIFEUniversity of CologneCologneGermany

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