If You Could Take a Pill to Improve Your Creativity, Would You?

Illustration for article titled If You Could Take a Pill to Improve Your Creativity, Would You?

Sure, who wouldn’t want to be more creative? But what about a pill to improve your self-control, or sociability? What if you enjoy being impulsive, or revel in your alone time? If a pharmacological enhancement changed a defining aspect of your personality, how would it change your perception of that enhancement?


Researchers at the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia surveyed over 1,400 people to understand their reasons for “endorsing or eschewing” the pharmacological enhancement of twelve cognitive domains.

The researchers were led by Laura Y. Cabrera, a neuroethicist with an interest in the implications of cognitive enhancement. “The debate over the propriety of cognitive enhancement evokes both enthusiasm and worry,” the researchers write in the latest issue of Neuroethics. “To gain further insight into the reasons that people may have for endorsing or eschewing pharmacological enhancement (PE), we used empirical tools to explore public attitudes towards PE of twelve cognitive, affective, and social (CAS) domains (e.g., attention, mood, creativity).”

A peek at the study’s supplementary material (the paper is behind a paywall) reveals the domain descriptors and definitions used for the investigation:

Illustration for article titled If You Could Take a Pill to Improve Your Creativity, Would You?

In their paper’s abstract, Cabrera and her colleagues describe the results of their investigation, which I’ve highlighted in bold:

Participants (N = 1,408) from Canada and the United States were recruited using Mechanical Turk and were randomly assigned to read one (and only one) vignette that described an individual who uses a pill to enhance a single domain. After reading the vignette, participants were asked how comfortable they were with the individual using the enhancement. People were significantly more comfortable when they read about enhancement of certain CAS domains (e.g. creativity) than others (e.g. mood). We found a modest negative correlation between comfort level and the degree to which the PE was perceived as changing core features of the person. We also found a modest correlation between comfort level and the degree to which the PE was perceived as improving success in life. Finally, using a sequential mixed method technique, we found that participants who felt uncomfortable about PE use overwhelmingly focused on a lack of need and, to a lesser degree, expressed concerns about safety; those who felt comfortable about PE use most frequently mentioned the safety of the pill and its ability to provide a positive outcome. The data provide novel insights into public enthusiasms and concerns over the use of PE.


Test subjects, in other words, seemed to look most favorably on enhancements that would improve a person’s innate qualities and, by extension, that person’s success in life. In contrast, enhancements that changed “the core features of a person,” i.e. made them less themselves, were looked upon less favorably. Which is interesting, when you consider the nature of the domain descriptors looked at in the study. Considered in isolation, most of the qualities listed above would probably be described as positive. But considered in the larger context of someone’s personality, each quality becomes more than just a virtuous trait. Its presence (or absence), from a person’s cognitive and emotional makeup constitutes that person’s identity. And what could be more important than a person’s identity?

[Neuroethics via Adam Kolber’s Neuroethics & Law Blog]

Contact the author at rtgonzalez@io9.com. Photo credit: Eric via flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0.



Will Holz

Not would, I DO. Frequently. Daily. Mercilessly even.

It’s part of what’s pretty much my mission for the rest of my life, to figure out how to take control of my brain and do something useful for humanity with it instead of just flouncing about going “Ooh, look at the pretty thing that fell out of my head. However did that happen?

I’ve spent a good bit of the last few years with a hugely big evolving spreadsheet and I’ll freely admit when I wasn’t worried about employment I experimented with all kinds of things. I’d take something, dance about the house, write down ideas, and then look at them later and see what sorts of categories they fall into.

Variances of ‘tams (with choline! Otherwise headaches-yuk), noopept, and the like can be fairly helpful along those lines for the legal stuff, and keeping yourself loaded with amino acids is hugely beneficial to supplement everything else and extremely underrated. Anything with a hallucinogenic effect is excellent for lateral hops if you take it with a purpose (I’d kill to be part of a group that uses LSD to analyze complex problems).

On the other end of the spectrum there are the things that focus. I’m pretty far down the ADD spectrum and I noticed that adderall actually stifled my creativity some on its own and like caffeine it’s a negative there, but there are a lot of combinations and the combinations have different effects, and there’s often a sweet spot.

Then there’s the environment, which only gives you so much power alone, but in combination with everything else can really make a difference. Music, pacing, light variance, quiet reading, meditation, dead silence and pitch black. Each one shifts the brain and each one is an opportunity for a thought you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Lastly, there’s external emotions. I recently had somebody try to hurt me (stalker) and instead of lashing back or getting frustrated I channeled those emotions into something creative (very much so) that I couldn’t have done otherwise and helped me with another step in the right direction.

So yeah, I’m in like Flynn. The results I’ve had with my amateur efforts are pretty impressive and my three-year-ago self looks pretty derpy in hindsight.