Abstract: Pharmacological agents originally developed for the treatment of neuropsychiatric patients are now commonly used to boost facets of cognition such as memory, learning, executive functions and attention by healthy individuals. Ethical issues relating to the cognitive effects of such agents have been widely discussed but have remained speculative. In this seminar, I illustrate these issues using modafinil (Provigil©), a drug licensed for narcolepsy but is increasingly used off-label by healthy individuals to improve concentration and enhance attention. I review recent findings showing that modafinil influences motivational saliency and impairs creativity in healthy individuals. Because of modafinil’s action on the motivational system that might lead to addiction, its impairment of creativity in healthy individuals, and the known side effects, its use by the healthy raises the ethical issue of whether improved attention outweighs the associated risks.
Biography: Ahmed Mohammd is a Wellcome Trust funded Ph.D. student at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. After a B.Sc. (Hons) in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Reading, Ahmed was a postgraduate research assistant in clinical psychiatry at Roehampton University and St. George’s Mental Health Trust, and has experience working with patients in clinical settings. He is being supervised by Professor Barbara Sahakian at the Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, and co-supervised by Professor Julian Savulescu, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. Ahmed’s research focuses on cognitive neuropsychiatry and the neuroethics of cognitive enhancement. He is interested in clinically and ethically investigating the best way of using cognitive enhancing drugs and neuroimaging techniques on healthy volunteers and patients with neuropsychiatric disorders. He aims to develop highly effective pharmacological and psychological treatments for neuropsychiatric patients; in order to do this, he is currently establishing how dopaminergic and noradrenergic drugs work to produce changes in brain chemistry, and how they affect goal-directed behaviour particularly associated with the frontal lobes.