While cognitive enhancement may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, it actually refers to any number of activities aimed at improving cognitive performance, from the mundane to the elicit. This includes non-pharmacological cognitive enhancement like meditation and a healthy diet as well as pharmacological cognitive enhancement (e.g., Adderall and Ritalin), which is particularly high among certain professional groups and students.
Views on the second type are varied, but this kind of cognitive enhancement tends to be perceived negatively by the general public, often due to their long term, deleterious effects, and also because they are seen as “cheating” and dishonest.
Other behaviors described as such, however, are often viewed positively by those demonstrating Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy traits, known collectively as the Dark Triad.
A group of Swiss researchers thus hypothesized that Dark Triad traits would correlate positively with favorable attitudes toward cognitive enhancement. A sample of 326 US employees were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk and asked to complete a short online questionnaire, including general attitude to pharmacological cognitive enhancement based on a 9-item scale.
Results show that Dark Triad traits were indeed positively associated with favorable attitudes toward pharmacological cognitive enhancement. In addition, openness to pharmacological cognitive enhancement was not on its own associated with either trait competitiveness nor competitive climates, which were also measured during the survey. Machiavellianism was most significantly related to positive attitudes, with narcissism and psychopathy traits coming in second and third, although in a statistically insignificant manner in robust analyses.
Together, these results indicate that context may be less important than personality when it comes to attitudes towards (pharmacological) cognitive enhancement, but also that Machiavellianism is a mediating factor. In fact, while competitive traits and climates alone were not associated with pharmacological cognitive enhancement favor, when paired with Dark Triad traits, a relationship emerged such that a more competitive climate led to more positive attitudes. This suggests that high Dark Triad individuals are either susceptible to influence by or willing to exploit such contexts.
Pharmacological cognitive enhancement is associated with a host of long term deleterious secondary effects, although in general, individuals fail to grasp their seriousness. The present study, “The Dark Triad of personality and attitudes toward cognitive enhancement”, may help prevention campaigns more effectively target those at risk of using pharmacological cognitive enhancement substances and educate them on the associated dangers.