February 20, 2009

Enhance me naturally so I can help others

CrocusAt last my friend Lena's article is out: Enhancing concentration, mood and memory in healthy individuals: An empirical study of attitudes among general practitioners and the general population -- Bergström and Lynöe 36 (5): 532 -- Scandinavian Journal of Public Health.

Enhancing for altruistic reasons (to help others) was also much more acceptable to the study participants than enhancing for one's own interest. Maybe that is just Swedish egalitarianism, but it could also be that many are unwilling to allow enhancement if it is perceived as giving a few unfair advantage.

Whether the study shows that people are against enhancement or not, is less clear. It was pretty clear that the majority in each case did not think enhancers should be prescribed. The most accepted enhancement was concentration enhancement benefiting society, reaching 32.7% among the general public; the least popular case among the public was selfish mood enhancement, 10.1. For GPs, the most accepted was altruistic mood, 22.8%, and the least accepted was also selfish mood enhancement, just 2.0%. But this shows that there is a pretty sizeable subset of the public and GPs who are fine with enhancement. That it is smaller than the number in self-selected surveys like Nature or Aftonbladet is not surprising. In a real situation I think people are more likely to use enhancers themselves than statements about the permissibility in general would suggest. The Riis, Simmons and Goodwin study shows a pretty strong decoupling between willingness to enhance (affected by self-image?) and willingness to allow others to enhance (affected by social ideas?). Similar to this study, Riis et al also saw that mood was more controversial to enhance than cognition - yet people are taking significant amounts of antidepressants.

The study also demonstrates that people allow enhancement much more readily when done by a "natural remedy" than with a "pharmaceutical". The increase in acceptability on the order of 30%. Clearly the naturalness has a strong effect on people's perception on the acceptability. Maybe it is the fear of overstepping "the natural order" that is hiding here: if you can get an effect by a "natural" tool, then it must have been meant to be found. This is of course not very convincing philosophically speaking, but a lot of this debate is not about neat ethics but the rather thick choices people make when they define themselves and their lives in terms of cultural constructions such as their view of nature.

Posted by Anders3 at February 20, 2009 08:21 PM