Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do?

Abstract

Our growing ability to alter brain function can be used to enhance the mental processes of normal individuals as well as to treat mental dysfunction in people who are ill. The prospect of neurocognitive enhancement raises many issues about what is safe, fair and otherwise morally acceptable. This article resulted from a meeting on neurocognitive enhancement that was held by the authors. Our goal is to review the state of the art in neurocognitive enhancement, its attendant social and ethical problems, and the ways in which society can address these problems.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. Donogue, J. Connecting cortex to machines: recent advances in brain interfaces. Nature Neurosci. (Suppl.) 5, 1085–1088 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Malhi, G. S. & Sachdev, P. Novel physical treatments for the management of neuropsychiatric disorders. J. Psychosom. Res. 53, 709–719 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. George, M. S. & Belmaker, R. H. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Neuropsychiatry (American Psychiatric Press, Washington DC, 2000).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Barondes, S. Better Than Prozac: Creating the Next Generation of Psychiatric Drugs (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Diller, L. H. The run on Ritalin. Attention deficit disorder and stimulant treatment in the 1990s. Hastings Center Report 26, 12–18 (1996).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Babcock, Q. & Byrne, T. Student perceptions of methylphenidate abuse at a public liberal arts college. J. Am. College Health 49, 143–145 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hall, S. S. The quest for a smart pill. Sci. Am. 54–65 (September 2003).

  8. Gold, P. E., Cahill, L. & Wenk, G. L. Ginkgo Biloba: a cognitive enhancer? Psychol. Sci. Public Interest 3, 2–11 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Farah, M. Emerging ethical issues in neuroscience. Nature Neurosci. 5, 1123–1129 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Farah, M. J. & Wolpe, P. R. Monitoring and manipulating brain function: new neuroscience technologies and their ethical implications. Hastings Center Report (in the press).

  11. Rose, S. P. R. 'Smart drugs': do they work? Are they ethical? Will they be legal? Nature Rev. Neurosci. 3, 975–979 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Lynch, G. Memory enhancement: the search for mechanism-based drugs. Nature Neurosci. 5, 1035–1038 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Craik, F. I. M. & Salthouse, T. A. The Handbook of Aging and Cognition (Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Yesavage, J. A. et al. Donepezil and flight simulator performance: effects on retention of complex skills. Neurology 59, 123–125 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Pittman, R. K. et al. Pilot study of secondary prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder with propranolol. Biol. Psychiatry 15, 189–192 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Mehta, M. A. et al. Methylphenidate enhances working memory by modulating discrete frontal and parietal lobe regions in the human brain. J. Neurosci. 20, RC65 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Elliott, R. et al. Effects of methylphenidate on spatial working memory and planning in healthy young adults. Psychopharmacology 131, 196–206 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Kimberg, D. Y., D'Esposito, M. & Farah, M. J. Effects of bromocriptine on human subjects depend on working memory capacity. Neuroreport 8, 3581–3585 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Teitelman, E. Off-label uses of modafinil. Am. J. Psychiatry 158, 1341 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Turner, D. C. et al. Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl.) 165, 260–269 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Holland, T., Clare, I. C. & Mukhopadhyay, T. Prevalence of criminal offending by men and women with intellectual disability and the characteristics of offenders. J. Intellect. Disabil. Res. 46, (Suppl.) 6–20 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Brower, M. C. & Price, B. H. Neuropsychiatry of frontal lobe dysfunction in violent and criminal behaviour: a critical review. J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry 71, 720–726 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Legislative Commissioners' Office. General Statutes of Connecticut. Title 10, Ch. 169, Sect. 10-212b (1 Jan 2003).

  24. United States District Court, New Hampshire, Case No. C-88-412-L (August 1, 1991).

  25. Kass, L. Beyond Therapy — Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (Harper Collins, New York, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Francis, F. Our Posthuman Future (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2002).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Chatterjee, A. Cosmetic neurology: the dilemma of altering movement, mood and cognition. Neurology (in the press).

Download references

Acknowledgements

This paper is based, in part, on a meeting held at the New York Academy of Sciences in June 2003, supported by a grant to J.I. from the National Science Foundation with co-sponsorship of a Mushett Family Foundation grant to the Academy. The writing of this paper was supported by NSF and NIH grants to M.J.F. and an NIH grant and a Greenwald Foundation grant to J.I.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martha J. Farah or Judy Illes.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

E.K. is a co-founder and Chariman of the scientific board of directors of Memory Pharmaceuticals.

Related links

Related links

FURTHER INFORMATION

Martha Farah's homepage

Judy Illes's homepage

Howard Gardner's homepage

Eric Kandel's laboratory

Patricia King's homepage

Barbara Sahakian's homepage

Paul Root Wolpe

NYAS e-briefing on neuroethics

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Farah, M., Illes, J., Cook-Deegan, R. et al. Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do?. Nat Rev Neurosci 5, 421–425 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn1390

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn1390

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing