UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

How and why people make judgments about the practical, moral, and societal implications of neuroenhancement technologies Fitz, Nicholas S.


In the last several decades, there has been a fiery interdisciplinary debate about the use of biomedical technologies that purportedly enhance mental abilities. While critics and enthusiasts bicker over issues such as safety, pressure, fairness, authenticity, and more, the world moves forward. So what does the general public think? What factors shape their judgments? And what explains our current social norms? To answer these questions, I conducted seven randomized studies (n=7,754) using quantitative and mixed-method methods. I find that risk-benefit judgments track the canonical therapy-enhancement distinction for pills and consumer brain stimulation devices, and that the occupation, but not the gender, of the user influences this calculus (Study 1); perceptions of pressure but not likelihood to use are influenced by peer and societal pressure around pills, brain stimulation, and software (Study 2); the amount of effort and the source of financial resources affect attitudes about the fairness of unequal distribution of enhancement (Study 3); the use of pharmaceuticals and the outcomes of such use in the workplace shape judgments of authentic achievement and worthiness of promotion (Study 4); the occupation of the worker does not affect preferences but does influence obligation judgments, and these attitudes are primarily driven by perceptions of societal benefit and secondarily mediated by perceived prevalence (Studies 5-7). I discuss the implications of these findings for research in neuroethics, social science, and public policy.

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