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

Nature Reviews Neuroscience volume 5, pages 421425 (2004) | Download Citation



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.

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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


  1. Martha Farah is at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA

    • Martha J. Farah
  2. Judy Illes is at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics and the Department of Radiology, 701 Welch Road, Stanford, California 94304-5748, USA

    • Judy Illes
  3. Robert Cook-Deegan is at the Center for Genome Ethics, Law and Policy, Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and Department of Public Policy Studies, Duke University, Room 127C, North Building, Research Drive, Box 90141, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0141, USA

    • Robert Cook-Deegan
  4. Howard Gardner is at the Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Roy E. Larsen Hall, 2nd Floor, Appian Way, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Howard Gardner
  5. Eric Kandel is at the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10032, USA

    • Eric Kandel
  6. Patricia King is at the Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Avenue, NW Washington DC 20001, USA

    • Patricia King
  7. Eric Parens is at the The Hastings Center, 21 Malcolm Gordon Drive, Garrison, New York 10524-5555, USA

    • Eric Parens
  8. Barbara Sahakian is at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital (Box 189), Cambridge CB2 2QQ, UK

    • Barbara Sahakian
  9. Paul Root Wolpe is at the Departments of Psychiatry, Medical Ethics, and Sociology, Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania, 3401 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-3319, USA

    • Paul Root Wolpe


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Competing interests

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

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martha J. Farah or Judy Illes.

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