Moral attitudes and willingness to enhance and repair cognition with brain stimulation

Published:September 26, 2018DOI:


      • We know little about the public attitudes toward enhancing and repair cognition with brain stimulation.
      • Intuitive moral judgments and the specific targets of brain stimulation may influence willingness to use it.
      • We examined moral acceptability and willingness to use brain stimulation in 894 subjects.
      • We found that people are most willing to use brain stimulation to repair the core authentic identity of other people.
      • We found that moral acceptability was positively associated with hypothetical willingness to use brain stimulation.



      The availability of technological means to enhance and repair human cognitive function raises questions about the perceived morality of their use. However, we have limited knowledge about the public's intuitive attitudes toward uses of brain stimulation. Studies that enlighten us about the public's willingness to endorse specific uses of brain stimulation on themselves and others could provide a basis to understand the moral psychology guiding intuitions about neuromodulation and opportunities to inform public education and public policy.


      Hypothesis: We expected that subjects would be less willing to enhance or repair cognitive functions perceived as more “core" to “authentic" self-identity, prioritize brain stimulation uses for themselves, and more willing to enhance “core" functions in others. Across specific hypothetical uses, we expected the moral acceptability of specific uses to be associated with subjects’ willingness to endorse them.


      We administered two surveys to the public in which subjects were asked to report how willing they would be to enhance or repair specific cognitive abilities using a hypothetical brain stimulation device called “Ceremode".


      Among 894 subjects, we found that subjects were more willing to use technologies to repair other people than themselves. They were most inclined to repair core functions in others. Subjects’ ratings of the moral acceptability of specific uses was related to their reported willingness to use brain stimulation.


      Moral acceptability is related to the public's willingness to use brain stimulation. These findings suggest that the public endorses a generous approach to applying brain stimulation for cognitive gains in others. Further, this study establishes a basis to guide moral psychological studies of cognitive modification and social processes that guide attitudes toward and uses of brain stimulation.


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