90 percent of pet owners think of their dogs and cats as members of the family. These relationships have benefits. For example, in a survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, 40 percent of married female dog owners reported they received more emotional support from their pet than from their husband or their kids.
Our moral codes are rooted in preconscious feelings of disgust at people who hurt others, cheat, are disloyal, disobey authority, and violate social taboos. Some of these moral feelings support modern Enlightenment ideas of morality while others are in contradiction with modern values of individual rights and critical thought. By illuminating the ways that our value systems are shaped by prerational impulses we can make more conscious choices about how to build a fair society and practice the civic virtues of fairness and engaged citizenship. But we also can begin to experiment with ways to enhance our moral reasoning with drugs and devices to become even better citizens than previously possible.
What if there were a pill that made you more compassionate? A new study finds that giving a drug that changes the neurochemical balance in the brain causes a greater willingness to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as ensuring that resources are divided more equally.
Imagine a huge pile of unwashed dishes reminds you that you should clean your kitchen. Would you rather take a pill that increases your ability to clean very elaborately or one that helps you get off the couch and actually bring yourself to start cleaning? No hard decision for me... Certain substances like methylphenidate can not only enhance cognition, but also motivation or, to be more precise, self-regulation. This is not too surprising as treating conditions associated with decreased self-regulation like ADHD often is a main purpose of such medication. However, while cognitive enhancement has been debated a lot, it seems that only now ethical debate turns to motivation enhancement as a potentially contentious topic. In their recent post on this blog, Hannah Maslen, Julian Savulescu, and Carin Hunt convincingly argue that “the advantage procured by reducing the subjective effort or psychological burden involved in persisting with cognitive or physical training may be substantially more beneficial than increasing one’s (latent) capacity to perform well, but leaving the aversiveness of training intact.” They conclude that “the most controversial human enhancement is not radical cognitive or physical enhancement. What is most controversial is the enhancement of the will and self-discipline. To have a will of iron is, in today’s world, an enormous advantage given the power technology affords.” I agree. Interestingly, many people seem to see matters differently. Tom Douglas, Felix Heise, Miles Hewstone, and I recently conducted an experiment, in which we investigated laypeople’s views on motivation enhancement as compared to cognitive enhancement. We found that motivation enhancement is seen as significantly less morally wrong than cognitive enhancement. Specifically, participants judged the behaviour of a student who uses enhancers while studying for exams as less wrong when this enhancer was described as “motivation pills; to be keener to study and overcome motivational problems” than when the purpose of this enhancer was described as “smart pills; to think faster and more clearly”. Moreover, we found a slight difference with regards to deservingness in favour of motivation enhancement. Participants tended to judge the student who uses “motivation pills” as more deserving of praise and success than the student uses “smart pills”. In other words, in the eyes of laypeople cognitive enhancement undermines deservingness somewhat more than motivation enhancement does. What we cannot tell yet is why lay people judge this way. Our data give a first indication that perceptions of unfairness might play a crucial role. Overall, participants tended to see advantages gained through enhancement as more unfair when it took the form of “smart pills” as compared to “motivation pills”. And the more individual participants deemed advantages acquired through enhancement as unfair, the more morally wrong they found this enhancement and the less deserving they deemed the user to be. However, our data don’t tell a clear causal story here – more research is needed to investigate the underlying psychological processes. Overall, however, it seems that lay people see motivation enhancement as less problematic than cognitive enhancement – a judgement I wouldn’t prematurely subscribe to.
I was keen to read Haldane’s argument, and it turned out to go a good deal deeper than providing mere examples of workers wasting time on social-media sites. The main issue is a neurological one, Haldane suggests. Technological advances, and the ubiquity of always-on media, may be undermining one of the key psychological prerequisites for economic growth: patience, and the willingness to put off current gratification for future gains.
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