Category Archives: Face Palms

Awful interpretations of cognitive research or other psychology ideas.

Wait…Barack Obama was president during 9/11?

Barack Obama had a big part in 9/11. - GIF on Imgur

According to APA Dictionary of Psychology, false memory is a distorted recollection of an event that never actually occurred. False memories are constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others. During the process, individuals may forget the source of the information (Dictionary). Retroactive interference occurs when new information presented interferes with your ability to retain previously encoded information. Essentially, the new information that a person receives works backward in time to distort memory of the original event (“How…”).

At a 2016 Trump Rally, The Daily Show’s segment “Fingers the Pulse”, correspondent Jordan Klepper, interviewed several supporters of the now current president about their views. So let me put this into context for you…

Interviewee: Barack Obama had big part of 9/11.

Interviewer: Which part?

Interviewee: Not being around, always on vacation and never in the office.

Interviewer: Why do you think Barack Obama wasn’t in the oval office on 9/11?

Interviewee: That I don’t know. Would like to get to the bottom of that.

So can a false memory form because of retroactive interference? A recent study on this idea focuses on the idea that,“The argument advanced in this article is that false memories can arise because of…namely, the decline of distinctiveness and the rise of retroactive interference.” (Howe). In this particular situation, the interviewee’s recall of 9/11 may have been skewed because of information encoded during former President Obama’s actual presidency in 2009-2017. Because of retroactive interference-the information taken from Obama’s presidency-a false memory of the situation was formed. The interviewee may have felt as though during Obama’s presidency, he was not doing a good job, always on vacation, and never in the office to do his job. Though, when that information was encoded, it may have distorted his recollection of memory of our president during 9/11, former President George W. Bush. 

Though this show may be staged, this interviewee showed his confidence by stating that he felt as though Barack Obama was our president during the September 11 Attacks, which occurred in 2001. Similarly, false memories can be formed because, “finally, individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their constructions are real or not.” (“How…”). With this in mind, no one in his life up until that point has informed him that his construction of that memory was incorrect. The strength in his false memory of Obama not doing his job during 9/11, was increased due to people not informing him that Obama was not the president until after 9/11. Agreement of an event by people is a very powerful technique for maintaining as well as instilling false memories.

This was just a quirky and fun example of false memory! But in all maybe we should cut this guy some slack, I mean, for all we know it could have been staged!


Dictionary. “APA Dictionary of Psychology.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 2020,

“How False Memories Form.” How False Memories Form,

Howe, Mark L. “Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology |, 1998,

Soo..Life isn’t like a box of videos?

Image result for forrest gump gif memory

In Paramount Pictures 1994 hit movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks -Forrest-, takes us as well as the stranger sitting next to him, on the journey of his life. Forrest recounts his life as if it were a story, a long winded movie almost, very detailed in orientation and very little left out. Though this movie has received great popularity, and is regarded highly among most, there is an unavoidable cognitive error within the story-line. We do not store information within our memory like videos. We are not able to recount memories as if they were movies, because they are not stored as such in our long-term memory. Similar to that of knowledge networks, our memory can be represented by networks of associations and connections; these networks are ever-changing and are updated frequently. Memory distortion and source error are common when identifying mental experiences. 

Because these networks are constantly being updated, we find that current information (such as mood or other disruptive mechanisms) change our recollection of past events. For example Forrest recalls the day he met Jenny on the bus and how taken aback he was by her beauty. He explains how he instantly fell for her and her looks. Though, psychology has shown that this feeling, may just be a projection of his current feelings for her back to the original encounter he had with her on the bus. Psychology has also found that, “The schema-based inferences we make in simply comprehending events initially can later be misattributed to perception.” (Johnson). In Forrest Gump there can be several examples of this all throughout his recognition of his past life events. Growing up Forrest’s mother ran a boarding house out of their home, where several tenants would come to live for a short time. When Forrest was young he recalls meeting Elvis Presley who happened to be staying at Forrest’s. Though, this may not seem like a memory you’d make up, there is a possibility that Forrest schematically associated anyone who played the guitar and dances, to Elvis Presley. According to the scientific journal, “people sometimes confuse what they inferred or imagined and what actually happened, what they saw and what was suggested to them…” (Johnson). So it is sad to say that we will never truly know Forrest Gump’s life story. 

  The scientific journal did a good job of explaining the ways in which source memory errors occur in individuals. It explains in great detail how “anything that disrupts the binding of features…into a complex event memory…will reduce source memory.” (Johnson). It does a great job in explaining how frequently source confusion occurs. The journal went into more depth about sources such as brain damage, which could also cause source memory error within individuals. It would have been nice if it touched base on the idea of memory not being like a video.

Although Forrest Gump is a highly regarded movie, memory retrieval is not as simple as pressing play and seeing your whole life story play out on a small tv screen in your head. It is hard to believe our recollection of our childhood is based on information someone told us, or a picture that we saw of ourselves and made up a story about. Our memories are ever changing due to new encoded information and factors that distort our recollection of a situation. We updated our recollection of a situation based on what is needed now. So don’t be sad in knowing that our memories don’t work like they do in the movies, always remember “Life is like a box of chocolates!” (Silvestri). 


Johnson, M K. “Source monitoring and memory distortion.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 352,1362 (1997): 1733-45. doi:10.1098/rstb.1997.0156

Silvestri, Alan. Forrest Gump : Original Motion Picture Score. New York :Sony Music Entertainment, 1994.

Race and Intelligence: Terrible and Dangerous Science

There was an op-ed posted on The New York Times’ website entitled “How Genetics is Changing our Understanding of ‘Race'”. Written  by David Reich, the piece talked about such things as race and IQ, and how there are differences in genetics between different groups of people that might make them different than other groups of people. The biggest idea is that a person’s race has an effect on their IQ. This is a belief that has been debunked before because it does not hold any real science.

There was then an article on Slate talking about the original article which said that David Reich was trying to bring up dangerous science that has been disproved numerous times. The author of the Slate article talked about how he was once a geneticist who fell into the trap of believing that IQ and race went hand in hand but eventually realized there was no scientific facts to back it up.

You see talk like this in certain parts of the world. This is only an example and is not necessarily true in any way, but take the idea of a white southern male who has racist views. He might believe that black people are lazy and dumb simply because of the color of their skin. This holds no weight because that is not how race and character traits work. On the other hand the black person might view the southern white male as being dumb and ignorant because he is a white person living in the south. These stereotype people have are dangerous to have because they are not backed up by scientific evidence.

This idea that race has an impact on a person’s IQ is something that has been used in historical cases with the biggest example being WWII and Hitler’s extermination of the Jewish people. His belief that simply because they were Jewish meant they were inferior led to one of the largest genocides in history. We cannot allow these dangerous beliefs to rise into main stream science and into the everyday persons thoughts because it could lead to something dangerous for us all.


Here is the link to the New York Times’ :

Here is the link to Slate’s article:

It’s on the tip of my tongue

Ever been in a situation in which your are struggling to remember an exact word, while the word seems so obvious and know you can just so easily put your finger on it, and pull it to your consciousness? But for some strange reason, you cant seem to capture its essence, as hard as you try and as far as you reach?  Of course you have… In life, we call this the tip of the tongue phenomena.  Ever heard of it? It happens everywhere and occurs incredibly often, and can honestly be quite frustrating when does.  The feeling accompanying this marvel causes you to stress your brain to a point that causes a unique mental state, where the person is attempting to consciously use retrieval cues to try to access the word they are just so ready to spit out, located just a touch away.  When this happens, people begin to try to remember features about the word, and connections they have formed with the word, they think to themselves:  “What was the font of the word when i saw it? Big? Small?” and scramble to figure out,  “What were the first few letters? Ele? Ela?”  In addition to this, you might think about when you heard the word last, or what was going on at that time, and you may dance around in your thoughts, trying to locate the word’s presence using mental structures, remembering schema associated with this mystery word, and bringing up cues.


These thoughts are guided to help your mind connect with the word, and helping, hoping you eventually find that knowledge you were so pressured to posses.  The interesting part is, when you are going through these processes in your mind, your thoughts can potentially lead you down a path of skewed thinking, where it attempts to create the word using these mental cues, and present words associated with the criteria of the cues. This means, whenever something is on the tip of your tongue, you will go through whatever processes (retrieval, accessibility, recency) you can muster, to quickly interpret and generate the word.  So, you know you should already know the word, you put yourself under enormous pressure both socially and introspectively to grasp this word.  When this happens, it is so easy to rush ourselves down one of the hundreds of potential paths paths, which sometimes causes us to slip, and retrieve the wrong cues, leading to the wrong word.  We will start telling ourselves we saw the word earlier, in a different context, or we try to remember things related to the word, or other words like it.

When struggling to find the word, our mind uses cues to help us snatch it from our peripheral, and we will being to asses these cues, and puzzling together the mind’s entire understanding of the word.  Unfortunately for us, there is always a possibility we could be misattributing, or incorrectly identifying specifics of memories, meaning we are susceptible to a warp in perception as we go through the constant sift of all incoming possible words.  During this sift, research suggests ( that the tip of the tongue phenomena will actually cause a certain feeling, or a state that often causes people to be likely to have a biased perception, and they will radically think to bring the word to the consciousness, but its easily possible to remember words that are closely resembling the impossible word, or have certain connections with it.  In the research, The characteristics that people were most likely mislabeling words with were accessibility, font size and shade, and frequency in the language.  This means the easier a word was to access in the mind, the easier it is to read, and the more frequently one is associated with the word,  the more likely it is to be wrongly chosen.  The state of mind associated with the tip of the tongue feeling sometimes leads people to making begin making inferences about the word in rash ways, leading to a much higher occurrence of error in the recall of the word.  The feeling of something being on the tip of your tongue is seen creating a bias in the way people think, causing them to make mistakes during retrieval and think the word is more easily accessible.  This means the thought goes something like this:  I definitely know this word its so easy, and I should be right here, why can I not think of it, I know this work completely!  This causes people to make accessibility errors in their words.

frustrated builder

While this is a simple topic, it very closely addresses our discussions of retrieval , the memory system (both working and long term), implicit and explicit memories.  It’s something so complicated was going on inside your head every time you struggle to remember a word that should just be so obvious.  Just remember, next time you can’t remember the word you were looking for, when you finally spit it out… don’t always count on it.  Unless you know you’re right I guess…


We’ve all been there, putting off work or school related tasks to the last minute and rushing to get things done. As a matter of fact it is being implemented and exemplified in this very blog post. Over the last few hours I have been trying to decide upon what the topic of my post should be, all the while trying to fill in that time doing other things in an attempt to “help me think.” Then it kind of came to me, I should write about procrastination and it’s relation to cognitive processes and attention and stuff, so here it goes.

In an article written by Joseph R. Ferrari, he says that procrastination may be related to the inability to stay focused on a task and a need for frequent sensory stimulation. In his article he also talks about the different procrastination tendencies: avoidance, arousal, and decisional; and he talks about their associations and relationships with attention deficits, boredom proneness, intelligence, and self-esteem as well.

Thinking about it logically, the aspect of selective attention can play a large role in procrastination. Selective attention is self-explanatory from the perspective that you are focusing your attention on stimuli other than what you should be focusing on. Then it can be broken down further into the argument of whether the early-selection hypothesis is being utilized, where the unattended input (your “should do” that’s been put on the back burner for other things) receives little to no analysis; or the late-selection hypothesis, where all input receives analysis but only the attended input (that which you chose over the “should do”) reaches consciousness or holds your attention’s priority.

While looking for articles to base my post on I came across others that listed other reasons for procrastination like the underestimation of the amount of time it would take to complete the task, the overestimation of the desire to complete the task come crunch time, and various other reasons of the sort. Those articles also commented on how procrastination can lead to negative effects in the individual, and in other articles there where some recommended solutions on how to treat the behavior. I guess I should probably look into those and take advantage of them… but I’ll put it off ’til later because I don’t really have the time right now.

The Truth about ECT

Picture if you will: an image of electroconvulsive (electroshock or shock treatment) therapy. For many people this image will involve an unwilling or drugged patient, strapped to a table (likely struggling) while a sadistic nurse administers dangerous shocks that result in dramatic screaming and thrashing. The result of this procedure usually leaves the patient in a worse state then they began in- for electroshock therapy is barbaric and obviously ineffective.


At least, that is the image Hollywood would like you to have, and one they have worked very hard on maintaining. Countless movies continue to present electroshock therapy as a treatment that is fundamentally abusive and ultimately useless. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Requiem for a Dream, and many others all present this portrayal. In Bollywood, the same is true- electroshock treatment are used a way to torture and hurt people. Unfortunately, it is one that is extraordinarily harmful and can create negative images and stigma towards a legitimate treatment.



There are a whole host of inaccuracies in Hollywood’s portrayal of electroshock treatments. The most important one, however, is that ECT actually works. ECT does cause a seizure- electrodes are attached to the head, and a current is passed between them, one which alters brain chemistry and activity. The fact is, between when ECT was first developed (1938) and until the 1950’s the treatment was dangerous. Broken bones and convulsions were not uncommon.


However, many advances have been made in the past decades. A muscle relaxant and general anesthetic is administered prior to the electroshock treatment to minimize muscle response during the seizure. Patient’s vitals are closely and carefully monitored. ECT has shown to be effective at easing symptoms of severe depression, bipolar disorder, and catatonia.


This is not to say that the treatment is perfect. In some countries (including 14 Asian countries) ECT is administered without appropriate muscles relaxants or anesthesia. In some cases, ECT has been known to cause retrograde amnesia, with some patients experiencing memory loss of events prior to the treatment. Partially because of these valid concerns ECT is usually only administered when other methods have failed. And even then patients are not unwilling, informed consent is always given before the procedure, another fact Hollywood prefers to gloss over.


Unfortunately the incorrect version of ECT Hollywood has propagated has a real and dangerous effect…and not just on the general populace. One third of medical students shown Hollywood’s version of ECT held less favorable opinions of the treatment and stated they were less likely to advise it to potential patients. In a 2012 survey 74% of undergraduate psychology students believed ECT to be physically harmful, with as few as 1.2% supporting its use.


Hollywood seems to have a fascination with science via electricity beginning with Frankenstein (1931) where Victor Frankenstein breathes life into his monster with electrical devices. Hollywood favors easy drama over scientific facts. The secret long ignored by films is that ECT can be performed safely and humanely and can be effective at alleviating depression and many other disorders that have been unresponsive to other treatments.

Inattentional Blindness

As evidenced by my previous post, I have always been fascinated with the concept of blindness – all types, in fact. Since I discovered my love and interest in psychology, I have found myself to be more aware of examples of anything I learn in class or from the textbooks in everyday life, particularly examples of any kind of blindness. A couple of weeks back my friends and I got together for out weekly Tuesday dinners at Seacobeck. While one of my friends – Timmy – got up from the table to get more food, my prankster friend decided to steal his phone and stash it in my coat pocket. As a side note, my coat is black. When he came back, it took him about twenty minutes to realize his phone was gone. Once he reached that realization, he began quizzing us on where it was. I gave him three clues:

1) It’s in a deep, dark place where hidden objects often go.
2) It’s in a place of pitch blackness.
3) You’re looking right at it.
(He sat across the table from me.)

Regardless of these clues, Timmy simply could not figure out where his phone was, looking under the table, in the flag, in my black purse, and in my shoes. I was surprised that he missed the most obvious of places – my coat. I then began to wonder: “Is it simply because it’s so obvious, that he missed it?” This brought me back to our discussion of inattentional blindness, something I think Timmy perfectly demonstrated that night in Seacobeck.

An article in the Psychological Review refers to many incidents where people fail to notice stimuli appearing in front of their eyes when they are preoccupied with an attention-demanding task; the task Timmy in particular was preoccupied with was finding his missing cell phone. In this article, each study refers to incidents when people were so focused on one task, they missed another stimulus that may seem blatantly obvious to others. For example, there was an American naval submarine that slammed into a Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine crew members and students on board. When questioned, the crew in the sub all insisted that while quickly scanning the waters for enemies and other submarines, they had simply missed the fishing trawler. While this is a catastrophic example, one that certainly does not have a very clear correlation to Timmy’s search, it makes me think of how exactly he was searching for his cell phone. Instead of looking carefully and really thinking about the clues I gave him, he was scanning the area around where we were sitting very quickly, not lingering on any object. When thinking about this case of the submarine and traffic accidents where drivers missed seemingly obvious obstacles in their way, I am able to see how Timmy may have missed the obvious choice of my black coat.

Though Timmy admittingly does not have the best common sense in the world, I still don’t want to think that he simply did not even consider the fact that the phone in my pocket – in fact, the reason my friend hid the phone in my pocket was because she thought it would be the first place he would think of. As this article points out, there is a phenomenon within inattentional blindness, called implicit perception, that suggests that when people don’t consciously notice a stimuli, it still is encoded outside of their awareness, also determining their future behaviors. As Timmy did finally decide that I had it hidden somewhere in my coat (nearly half-an-hour later), this suggests that he had registered the existence of my coat in his consciousness, but didn’t access it until we practically gave away the location.

This experience of inattentional blindness in my everyday life was not only hilarious and slightly annoying, it further instilled in me an understanding of this concept, as well as a deeper understanding of the mind of my friend Timmy. I look forward to more times I can experience the concepts of cognitive psychology in real life!

Did you notice anything different?


All of us have a weakness when it comes to missing the little things when you are focused on something else, whether it’s driving down a road and you don’t see a car swerve into your lane and you cause an accident or you don’t miss an airplane flying in the background of a movie based in ancient times. We miss these things in our everyday lives because we are so focused on something else.

The word for this is inattentional blindness. We become so focused on the task at hand that we become “blind” to the things happening around us. Our brain filters out things that it doesn’t seem to think is important so we can focus all of our attention of what we need at that time.

The most famous study done with with this concept is the Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. 

In this study, people were asked to pay attention and the count the number of passes either the team in white completed or the team in black completed in four different videos. While the players were passing the ball, a woman with an umbrella or a man in a gorilla suit walked through. After each video was played the participants were asked if they noticed anything unusual in the video, and eventually, if they noticed the woman with the umbrella or the gorilla.


Overall, the woman with the umbrella was noticed more than the gorilla by the participants and the people who were counting the black team’s passes noticed the strange things more than participants counting the white teams passes.

Illusionists use this trick of the mind all of the time. in the video above, the magician is performing a trick with matches and playing cards, however, the things around you are changing. There were three changes in the video, a red hankie to a green one, his shirt swapping to a t-shirt, then he had a totally different assistant at the end, and all of these things happened while you were so focused on the trick.

The magician in the video had a real knowledge of the way that our brain works. He knew that by making us focus on the things he was doing with the cards and the matches that we would miss the changes that were happening right in front of our eyes. Magicians and illusionists use this all the time, by making you focus on something specific you are missing the small things that make up the actual trick.

By knowing that our brain works in this kind of way, we can become more aware in our everyday lives. We might be able to see the car swerve lanes and are able to avoid the collision or maybe even be able to spot the mistakes that a movie is making. Or maybe not, or brain has a way of factoring out what it thinks is not important and having us recognize only what we think we need to.




If you ask someone what their blood type is, a fundamental aspect of what their body is comprised of, odds are they might not know. However, if you ask them something important, like what their Zodiac sign is, they’ll answer with no hesitation. For example, I’ll be able to tell you that I’m a Leo without a second thought. Some people live under the false notion that their zodiac sign is a major determining factor in their overall personality, but could this be true? Is it possible that there are only 12 different types of personality in over 7 billion people? And is it likely that you’ll be having the exact same kind of day with 1/12th of the population based on an arbitrary assignment? According to horoscopes, yes, you and 1 in every 12 people will find love today in the place you least expect it.

But why do people believe that the cosmos have an effect on personality? There’s this thing called subjective validation which basically states that two completely unrelated events are connected because a relationship is demanded. In other words, we find a way to make our horoscope apply to us. This “relationship” between the stars and personalities was put to the test by psychologist Bertram Forer. He gave a “unique” personality assessment to a group of students based on  a personality exam that they took and asked them to rate the accuracy of their assessment on a scale from 0 to 5, 5 being the most accurate. The average score was 4.26/5, meaning that everyone thought their personality assessment accurately captured how they view themselves. But here comes the plot twist:

Every student’s “unique” result was actually the exact same one.

What Forer basically did is he took a line or two from each horoscope’s description and compiled them into a single paragraph. This is where subjective validation comes into play. Odds are, people paid more attention to the “hits” rather than the “misses” in this paragraph and tried to make the traits apply to them. This unique paragraph also consisted of a number of Barnum statements, or statements that could apply equally to anyone. For example, “you have a great desire to be liked by everyone around you.” Well yeah, I haven’t met anyone whose sole goal in life was to be hated by everyone in their life.

To further debunk the astrological myth, all you have to do is look around you. The 25% of people who rely on “compatibility” to find destiny’s one true love for them are living under the world’s greatest delusion. My best friend is a Sagittarius and I’m a Leo, so apparently we’re supposed to be enemies. My parents are also supposed to remain as friends. 40 years of marriage and 5 kids would all beg to differ. Does compatibility largely rely on personality? Of course it does! But does personality rely on the stars? Not at all. This is one of those moments where A = B but B C, so it should logically follow that A C.

But what are some of the factors that make horoscopes so convincing? First of all, the subject believes that the unique description of how their day/week/month/year/life will pan out applies only to them, hence the term unique. However, as I’ve said before, this “unique” description applies to 1 in every 12 people. This is where you have to keep in mind that snowflakes are the only things that are abundant yet still remain unique, unlike humans. What’s more, people tend to believe what’s being told to them if they’re being told by a veritable source of authority, such as a psychic with a turban, a crystal ball, and maybe some incense burning in the back room to set the mood. So with this divine being forecasting your future and your love life, of course there will be some sense of credibility to it. But again, this is where people tend to make their own self-fulfilling prophecies.

Another experiment was carried out by French astrologist, Michel Gauquelin. He provided readers of a French newspaper with a free horoscope so long as they provided feedback of the accuracy of the prediction. Lo and behold, over 90% of the readers said their prediction was accurate. This is where the next trick comes in: the horoscope was exactly the same for all readers, much like Forer’s experiment.

What’s more, personality may change but not as quickly as some people may think. In 2011, the planet underwent some slight realignment, which meant that the stars realigned as well and therefore changed everyone’s zodiac sign. I was a Leo before this change and apparently now I’m a Cancer (a change I refuse to accept because I liked being a lion and I don’t know how to feel about being demoted to a teeny little crab). But this means that everyone’s personalities will change as a result, making those who were introverted before relatively extroverted because their date of birth fell within a different range. Just because the signs changed, that doesn’t mean that personalities changed overnight.

So when determining your personality, don’t rely so much on horoscopes. Consult a psychological examination backed by a credible institution or just ask the people around you and obtain some Informant Data. Better yet, do some introspecting and ask yourself rather than the crystal ball.

Let’s Talk (More) About “Lucy”

While another student in our class has brought up the film “Lucy” in the context of the popular myth that we only use 10% of our brain, there are many other aspects of cognitive psychology available to discuss in relation to the film.

“Lucy” follows its eponymous main character as she experiences a significant enhancement of her mental and physical abilities following an accidental consumption of a large quantity of a drug called CPH4. Specifically, CPH4 is a nootropic drug. These drugs are also known as cognitive enhancers or “smart pills” due to their main function: increasing cognitive ability.

Other films have used nootropic drugs as a plot device. For example, the 2010 film “Limitless” is about one man’s experience with a nootropic drug called NZT-48 that boosts his capacity for learning and memory. Similarly to “Lucy”, NZT-48 eventually gives the main character various psychic abilities such as telepathy.

But how do Hollywood depictions of nootropic drugs compare to how these drugs actually work in real life? Well, for a start, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that ingesting large quantities of nootropic drugs will allow you to read minds or levitate objects or turn yourself into a USB drive. In fact, taking higher-than-suggested doses of nootropic drugs can have the opposite effect and actually decrease cognitive ability.

Originally, nootropic drugs were developed to help people suffering from cognitive deficits as a result of disorders like Alzheimer’s and ADHD. However, recently, there has been a strong push to investigate the effects of prescribing these drugs to people without such conditions; this is known as neuroenhancement. Understandably, neuroenhancement is a very controversial topic that has raised many interesting questions about the legal, social, and ethical issues associated with this practice. This journal article discusses some of these issues.

One of the first areas of debate that this article addresses is the question of whether or not neuroenhancement even has a place in the doctor’s office. Some argue that it goes against the goals of medicine, that because the people seeking these “smart pills” aren’t looking for treatment of some kind, they shouldn’t be considered real patients and therefore a doctor-patient relationship should not be established. However, the authors of the article bring up a good point: not all medical professionals treat patients. Some are solely researchers; others may only provide evaluations. Yet these career options are not seen as detrimental to the healthcare field because they’re so clearly socially useful. The morality of neuroenhancement, on the the other hand, is slightly less clear. Maybe, the authors argue, prescribing nootropic drugs is not “ethically obligatory”, but because the goal is ultimately to improve the patient’s life in some way, neuroenhancement could be considered “ethically permissible”.

Another issue mentioned in this article is the fact that, as of right now, there aren’t any nootropic drugs specifically designed for use in a population without cognitive deficits. This means that the use of these drugs by healthy people is considered “off-label”. Off-label use of prescription medication is not inherently a bad thing; however, the medical professional who is prescribing a drug for something other than its original purpose does have a responsibility to properly research it. Unfortunately, since research on the use of nootropic drugs in healthy individuals is still scarce at the moment, accurate information about things like side effects and short- and long-term risks are not always available. This poses a provocative question: is it ethical to prescribe a drug when you’re not sure of its efficacy or safety?

Note that this dilemma is not only one of ethics; it must also be looked at from a legal perspective. For example, if the off-label use of a nootropic drug causes some kind of harm, the medical professional who prescribed it could potentially be found liable for malpractice. Therefore, it’s understandable that many doctors are hesitant to prescribe these drugs, causing patients to seek them elsewhere. Obviously, this is problematic.

Regardless of the medication, it is not advisable for people to obtain prescription drugs outside of a doctor’s supervision, yet this is exactly what many people who are interested in neuroenhancement do. For example, lots of students all around the world illegally obtain medications like Adderall and Ritalin in an attempt to boost cognitive abilities such as concentration and memory. For example, this study from 2010 found that while only about 5% of college students have been legitimately prescribed some sort of ADHD medication, almost 62% have been offered it by another student and 31% accepted that offer.

But equally as dangerous is the consumption of unapproved drugs and supplements that claim to have neuroenhancement capacities. There are countless websites like this one that sell various compounds to customers seeking neuroenhancement. If you click around a bit, you’ll see that it makes dozens of claims about how specific compounds will perform actions such as “increase learning” or “protect against diminished cognition after sleep deprivation”. The evidence provided to support these claims often takes the form of studies done on in foreign countries on non-human subjects in which results have not been able to be replicated. To the educated eye, buying and consuming these compounds is clearly a bad idea. But the majority of the world is not trained in research and gets a lot of their information from the media, which (as found in this article) commonly hypes up the effects of nootropic drugs while downplaying the potential risks. In fact, the aforementioned website has had so many requests from customers begging for a “Limitless”-style drug that they had to specifically address this in their FAQ.

So why are nootropic drugs such as CPH4 and NZT-48 so hard to replicate in real life? The most commonly accepted answer is that cognition is complicated. The systems involved with cognitive abilities such as attention, memory and learning are insanely complex. Boosting these systems requires a much more in-depth knowledge of fields such as cognitive neuroscience than we currently possess. Clearly, with such a high demand for nootropic drugs, their research and development will continue. According to Hollywood, quite soon we’ll all have turned into amorphous supercomputers only to disappear into the space-time continuum. But looking at the science out there, it’s a lot less likely.