Cognitive Enhancement vs. Plagiarism: a Quantitative Study on the Attitudes of an Italian Sample



Irrespective of the presence of formal norms, behaviours such as plagiarism, data fabrication and falsification are commonly regarded as unethical and unfair. Almost unanimously, they are considered forms of academic misconduct. Is this the case also for newer behaviours that technology is making possible and are now entering the academic scenario?

In the current paper we focus on cognitive enhancement (CE), the use of drugs to enhance cognitive skills of an otherwise healthy individual. At present, there are no formal rules forbidding its use in the academic setting. However, it is not clear whether there is a general public sentiment that CE should be considered as a modern form of academic misconduct.

By means of the Contrastive Vignette Technique, we collected quantitative data from 284 online surveys to directly compare the attitude of the general public towards CE and plagiarism across different ethically relevant aspects. Our aim was to understand whether the use of prescription drugs to enhance a healthy person’s cognitive skills is perceived similarly to a more common form of cheating, specifically plagiarism.

Results show that our participants do not endorse CE. At the same time, however, their opinion on the ethical issues related to its use is not negative: rather, their attitude is more positive towards CE compared to plagiarism. This seems to pose against the idea that, at present, the use of cognitive enhancers in academic environments is regarded as a form of cheating.


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