The uncertainties of enhancement: A mixed-methods study on the use of substances for cognitive enhancement and it’s unintended consequences

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The use of substances for cognitive enhancement has become a relatively well-studied phenomenon in recent years. However, few studies deal with the negative and unintended consequences of such practices. This article uses two data sets to explore and discuss the doubt and negative consequences that affect people using substances in the pursuit of enhancing cognition.

Data for the study are drawn from an online discussion forum on substances for enhancement and from ethnographic fieldwork carried out among university students in New York City. Taking a quali-quantitative approach, we combine digital text analytic tools with qualitative analysis and readings.

Using prescription stimulants and other substances for cognitive enhancement generates considerable uncertainty in terms of unclear effects, varying practices and ambivalent ethics. While the negative effects are not something easily discussed in person, references to them are very common in the online discussion forum.

People who use substances for enhancement have developed a ‘folk pharmacology’ that seems to play an important role in how they perceive the negative effects. This may make people who engage in these kinds of enhancement practices less able to make informed choices about their use of these substances.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPerformance Enhancement & Health
Pages (from-to)111-120
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - Cognitive enhancement, Substances, Prescription stimulants, Uncertainty, Quali-quantitative methods, Folk pharmacology

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