Bioethics Blogs

Responsibility: Revis(ion)ing brains via cognitive enhancement

By Shweta Sahu
The Statue of Liberty, an iconic symbol of
American opportunity; courtesy of Wikipedia

Most every parent wants their child to grow up to be a neurosurgeon, a lawyer, or the next gen Mark Zuckerberg. That was especially true in my case, as a first generation child. When I was two, my parents came to the United States, “the land of opportunity,” seeking the success that they had only heard about in India. I grew up hearing their stories of hardship when they first moved here with an infant, without a car, without any extended family, and knowing very little working English. I witnessed them struggle tirelessly to make a life for themselves and they always said that without education you are nothing and will be no one. As a child, while my friends would go to sleepovers and camping trips with friends, my dad would spend time checking my math problems on the white board at home and my mom would make me spell 50 words correctly every night. But even with all that pressure, I never had the best GPA, I had to work incredibly hard to stay above the class average, and I almost always fell short of their expectations. So given the opportunity, would my parents have tried to enhance my cognitive ability?

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is one intervention, particularly in the DIY community, which is becoming increasingly popular in hopes of achieving enhancement of cognition, though it is not available clinically for this express purpose. While it has been deemed safe in the short term from 10,000 trials of adults, studies (like this one and this one) indicate that tDCS does not result in significant enduring improvements in cognitive performance.

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.