December 31, 2008

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Friend or Foe?: Performance-Enhancing Drugs for the Mind “Mentally competent adults should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs,” argues a controversial new essay published in Nature magazine this past month. Charting evidence for the necessity to understand these drugs better and integrate them into everyday life, the researchers noted one study which found that 25 percent of students at some colleges admitted to using ADHD drugs for nonmedical reasons. As the generation used to employing drugs as study aids (with purchase readily available over the Internet or on campus) enters employment, the future could hold a significantly more medicated society. In addition, this trend could very well encompass everyone, including baby boomers. Workplaces could shift toward encouraging employees to take, for example, Provigil— a drug typically used to aid narcoleptics—to maintain concentration and, on a bigger scale, a business’s overall competitiveness. One of the interesting discussion points in the piece, in terms of how the issue relates to the field of training and development, was the recommendation that human resource professionals, in addition to physicians, be one of the groups to help manage “the ethics of the appropriate prescribing of cognitive enhancers.” Another group that should influence enhancement policy would be the labor and professional organizations of the individuals who are candidates for cognitive on-the-job enhancement. The authors feel strongly about their stance but do encourage caution, arguing that “From assembly line workers to surgeons, many different kinds of employee may benefit from enhancement and want access to it, yet they may also need protection from the pressure to enhance.” The researchers for this report were Henry Greely (Stanford Law School), Barbara Sahakian (University of Cambridge, psychiatry), John Harris (University of Manchester, Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation), Ronald C. Kessler (Harvard Medical School, Department of Health Care Policy), Michael Gazzaniga (University of California – Santa Barbara, Sage Center for the Study of the Mind), Philip Campbell (London, Nature), and Martha J. Farah (University of Pennsylvania, cognitive neuroscience). Read further about this polarizing discussion at Wired, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Week.

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The T+D blog covers training, learning, business, and technology topics as well as relevant content from ASTD (the American Society for Training and Development) publications and services.

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