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Cognitive neuroenhancement: false assumptions in the ethical debate
  1. Andreas Heinz1,
  2. Roland Kipke2,
  3. Hannah Heimann1,
  4. Urban Wiesing3
  1. 1Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  2. 2University of Tübingen, International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW), Tübingen, Germany
  3. 3University of Tübingen, Institut für Ethik und Geschichte der Medizin, Tübingen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Roland Kipke, University of Tübingen, International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW), Wilhelmstrasse 19, Tübingen 72074, Germany; kipke{at}


The present work critically examines two assumptions frequently stated by supporters of cognitive neuroenhancement. The first, explicitly methodological, assumption is the supposition of effective and side effect-free neuroenhancers. However, there is an evidence-based concern that the most promising drugs currently used for cognitive enhancement can be addictive. Furthermore, this work describes why the neuronal correlates of key cognitive concepts, such as learning and memory, are so deeply connected with mechanisms implicated in the development and maintenance of addictive behaviour so that modification of these systems may inevitably run the risk of addiction to the enhancing drugs. Such a potential risk of addiction could only be falsified by in-depth empirical research. The second, implicit, assumption is that research on neuroenhancement does not pose a serious moral problem. However, the potential for addiction, along with arguments related to research ethics and the potential social impact of neuroenhancement, could invalidate this assumption. It is suggested that ethical evaluation needs to consider the empirical data as well as the question of whether and how such empirical knowledge can be obtained.

  • Neuro-enhancement
  • addiction
  • neuroethics
  • research ethics
  • applied and professional ethics
  • philosophical ethics
  • enhancement
  • embryos and fetuses
  • living wills/advance directives

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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