Bioethics Blogs

How people are wrong about cognitive enhancement and how to fix it

During my master’s research on human enhancement I did a lot of talks about cognitive enhancement to the general wrong and dangerouspublic. Back then I compiled a list of recurring biases I noticed during the subsequent discussions, as well as some tentative techniques to solve them. The paper “Cognitive biases can affect moral intuitions about cognitive enhancement” already explores the possible effects of some of the biases on my list: status quo bias, loss aversion, risk aversion and omission bias; besides those four, the ones that I more often came across were:

Zero risk bias
This was by far the most glaringly recurring one. It might be a mixture of status quo bias and risk aversion, but I don’t know the name of any bias in the cognitive bias literature which specifically matches it. So this might be one likely to be overlooked.
People would compare cognitive enhancer’s risks with absence of risks. If it had a risk greater than zero, they would mentally classify it as risky. However, this overlooks two things. Firstly, not taking a cognitive enhancement also has several risks. Sandberg, A., & Savulescu, J. (2011) notice how many deaths, accidents, injuries and so on are caused by decisions of cognitive deprived individuals. Secondly, most people committing this bias were already on a cognitive enhancer, which was known to be pretty risky, namely, caffeine.
My audience would often get alarmed by the fact one study on modafinil reported a slight rise in blood pressure, while forgetting they were already taking caffeine, a drug several studies already found a bigger effect on blood pressure.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.