Switzerland has honest students: The vast majority of the students that were questioned were against pharmacological cognitive enhancement. Yet the topic should be addressed more actively by the universities, asks the study that was published in the journal Plos One.
Using drugs for cognitive enhancement is unfair — 70% of students in Switzerland shared this opinion. In a survey with 3,000 participants, a research team led by Prof. Matthias Liechti from the University Hospital Basel in collaboration with the Swiss Institute for Addiction and Health Research of the University of Zurich investigated the attitude of university students towards the abuse of prescription drugs.
Ritalin versus energy drinks
The questionnaire was answered by students of the universities of Basel and Zurich as well as of ETH Zurich and inquired about their habits and stance concerning substances such as Ritalin, antidepressants, Modasomil (prescribed for sleeping disorders), beta blockers as well as a number of recreational drugs. 22% of the interviewees stated having used one of the mentioned substances at least once in order to study more effectively. Correspondingly, students that had experience with pharmacological performance enhancers rated their use considerably less critical (24% judged the use as fair) than students that had not (11%).
Unfair and unsafe
A majority of the participants expressed concern regarding risks and side effects of the drugs. Likewise, many of them were worried that a widespread use would put pressure on non-users to also boost their cognitive abilities through pharmaceutical substances. However, the question whether universities should sternly regulate their use divided the respondents in two even camps.
Though the major point of contention remained the question of fairness. Two thirds of the participants compared pharmacological cognitive enhancement to doping in sports and 80% stated that results acquired through such practices were not acceptable in competitive environments. Only in the case of students with diagnosed mental illnesses and medical prescriptions did most of the respondents approve of drug usage (64%).
Liechti and his team were content with the extent of expressed opinions but conceded that in light of the participation rate of merely 10% (almost 30,000 questionnaires had been sent out) it was possible that the results did not represent the views of all students of Swiss universities. They concluded that the use of pharmacological cognitive enhancement at universities ought to be monitored in the future. Furthermore, students should get extensive information on this issue — primarily the concerns about the pressure to participate can presumably be traced back to a lack of understanding of the actual benefits of brain-doping.
Source: Yannik Sprecher – University of Basel
Image Source: The image is adapted from the University of Basel press release
Original Research: Full open access research for “Swiss University Students’ Attitudes toward Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement” by Larissa J. Maier, Evangelia Liakoni, Jan Schildmann, Michael P. Schaub, and Matthias E. Liechti in PLOS ONE. Published online December 10 2015 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144402
Swiss University Students’ Attitudes toward Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement
Pharmacological cognitive enhancement (PCE) refers to the nonmedical use of prescription or recreational drugs to enhance cognitive performance. Several concerns about PCE have been raised in the public. The aim of the present study was to investigate students’ attitudes toward PCE. Students at three Swiss universities were invited by e-mail to participate in a web-based survey. Of the 29,282 students who were contacted, 3,056 participated. Of these students, 22% indicated that they had used prescription drugs (12%) or recreational substances including alcohol (14%) at least once for PCE. The use of prescription drugs or recreational substances including alcohol prior to the last exam was reported by 16%. Users of pharmacological cognitive enhancers were more likely to consider PCE fair (24%) compared with nonusers (11%). Only a minority of the participants agreed with the nonmedical use of prescription drugs by fellow students when assuming weak (7%) or hypothetically strong efficacy and availability to everyone (14%). Two-thirds (68%) considered performance that is obtained with PCE less worthy of recognition. Additionally, 80% disagreed that PCE is acceptable in a competitive environment. More than half (64%) agreed that PCE in academia is similar to doping in sports. Nearly half (48%) claimed that unregulated access to pharmacological cognitive enhancers increases the pressure to engage in PCE and educational inequality (55%). In conclusion, Swiss students’ main concerns regarding PCE were related to coercion and fairness. As expected, these concerns were more prevalent among nonusers than among users of pharmacological cognitive enhancers. More balanced information on PCE should be shared with students, and future monitoring of PCE is recommended.
“Swiss University Students’ Attitudes toward Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement” by Larissa J. Maier, Evangelia Liakoni, Jan Schildmann, Michael P. Schaub, and Matthias E. Liechti in PLOS ONE. Published online December 10 2015 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144402