How Realistic Are the Scientific Assumptions of the Neuroenhancement Debate? Assessing the Pharmacological Optimism and Neuroenhancement Prevalence Hypotheses

Schleim, S. & Quednow, B. B. 22-Jan-2018 In : Frontiers in Pharmacology. 9, 7 p., 3

Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

Since two decades, neuroenhancement is a major topic in neuroethics and still receives much attention in the scholarly literature as well as in public media. In contrast to high hopes at the beginning of the "Decade of the Brain" in the United States and Europe that we subsume under the "pharmacological optimism hypothesis," recent evidence from clinical neuroscience suggests that developing drugs that make healthy people smarter is even more difficult than finding new treatments for patients with mental disorders. However, cognitive enhancing drugs even for patients with impaired intellectual performance have not been successfully developed yet and new drugs that might have a disruptive impact on this field are unlikely to be developed in the near future. Additionally, we discuss theoretical, empirical, and historical evidence to assess whether cognitive enhancement of the healthy is common or even epidemic and if its application will further increase in the near future, as suggested by the "neuroenhancement prevalence hypothesis." Reports, surveys, and reviews from the 1930s until today indicate that psychopharmacological neuroenhancement is a fact but less common than often stated, particularly in the public media. Non-medical use of psychostimulants for the purpose of cognitive enhancement exists since at least 80 years and it might actually have been more common in the past than today. Therefore, we conclude that the pharmacological optimism hypothesis and neuroenhancement prevalence hypotheses have to be rejected and argue that the neuroenhancement debate should take the available evidence more into account.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
StatePublished - 22-Jan-2018


  • smart drugs, study drugs, cognitive enhancement, neuroenhancement, stimulants, modafinil, methylphenidate, amphetamine, OF-THE-LITERATURE, PRESCRIPTION STIMULANTS, COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT, MEDICATION USE, BRAIN, NEUROSCIENCE, STUDENTS, PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY, METHYLPHENIDATE, PERSPECTIVE

View graph of relations

ID: 53851013