Saturday, February 13, 2010

Boosting Healthy Brains

The latest research into the neural roots of intelligence may lead to better drugs and tools for cognitive enhancement. In the future, drugs may enhance the neurotransmitters that regulate communication among the salient brain areas underlying general intelligence or more specific mental abilities. Other drugs could stimulate gray matter growth or white matter integrity in relevant areas. Certainly such advances would be welcome as potential treatments for mental retardation and developmental disabilities. They may also be welcome by any individual looking for more intelligence. If an effective “IQ pill” becomes available, are the societal and ethical issues the same as for performance-enhancing drugs in sports, or is there a moral imperative that more intelligence is always better than less? Apparently, many scientists agree with the latter. An online survey of 1,427 scientists conducted in 2008 by Nature found that 20 percent of respondents already use prescription drugs to enhance “concentration” rather than for treating a medical condition. Almost 70 percent of 1,258 respondents who answered the question said they would be willing to risk mild side effects to “boost their brainpower” by taking cognition-enhancing drugs. Eighty percent of all the scientists who responded— even those who did not use these drugs—defended the right of “healthy humans” to take them as work boosters, and more than half said their use should not be restricted, even for university entrance exams. More than a third said that they would feel pressure to give their children such drugs if they knew other kids at school were also taking them. Few appear to favor the “ignorance is bliss” position. Intelligence is a critical resource for the development of civilization. As the global economy evolves and small countries compete with larger countries, assessing, developing and even enhancing intellectual talent may well become the neuroscience challenge for the 21st century.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind November-December 2009

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