Sebastian Sattler

Enhancing our Children’s Lives: The Moral Acceptability of and Willingness to Use Pediatric Cognitive Enhancement (ECL)

Research Assistant for Sociology and Social Psychology; Post-Doctoral Fellow, Cologne Graduate School in Management, Economics and Social Sciences (CGS)
University of Cologne, Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology
Cologne; Germany

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 5:20-5:40PM

Enhancing our Children’s Lives? Parental Decisions to Give Prescription Drugs to Healthy Children to Increase their Cognitive Performance

Research indicates that a significant share of parents would feel pressure to give prescription medication with the aim of enhancing the cognitive performance of their children, if classmates were taking such medication. In the ethical and societal debate, opponents and proponents of such so-called “Cognitive Enhancement” discuss the hopes and problems associated with this practice. However, little is known about the role of social influences in parental decisions to give or not give such medications to their children. Here, results of experiments using vignettes that explore different mechanisms of social influences will be presented.>


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SUNDAY (8/6) 1:00-2:30PM

Drawing the Edges of Human Life

This laboratory session will attempt to bridge our research findings (encompassing technological, social, and moral dimensions) on human enhancements at the beginning and end of life with those normative views, beliefs, and attitudes operating in the public sphere. Which narratives about enhancement achieve valence? Which “publics” participate? How does the definition of “health” draw margins and borders of fitness that implicate resource allocation, justice, and disparity? Are the margins changing? To what extent can notions of human flourishing, the awe of life, and living finite life to its fullest move and shift the normative boundaries and expectations for the beginning and end of life that predominate our technology-driven cultures?

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.


Academic Biography

Sebastian Sattler became a full-time researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne in 2015 following his post-doc fellowship funded by the Fritz-Thyssen Foundation (2013–15). From the beginning of his academic activities, he has been interested in the assessment and explanation of behavior that violates social and/or legal norms such as cognitive enhancement (CE), academic dishonesty, and corruption. His master’s thesis on measuring and explaining plagiarism, published in 2007, was awarded the German Sociological Association (DGS) prize for an outstanding Master’s thesis. After graduating, he worked at Bielefeld University in the IDUN project (funded by the German Research Foundation, DFG) on the assessment and influence of social networks and later on preparing a successful proposal for a Collaborative Research Centre on social inequalities (SFB 882). From 2009 to 2012, he was project leader of the FAIRUSE project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF), in which he and his team conducted a large-scale longitudinal study on the prevalence and predictors of student misconduct and counter measures against it. Data obtained from this project were used in his cumulative dissertation on approaches to explaining morally questionable behavior (including CE) with distinction (supported by a Bielefeld University Rectorate Fellowship in 2012). From 2011 to 2013 he was a key staff member of the EU-funded CONGRAD project to support graduate surveys in the Balkan region and a researcher at the universities in Bielefeld, Freiburg, and Erfurt.

Project Executive Summary

Pediatric cognitive enhancements (CE), that is the enhancement of memory, learning, cognitive control, or concentration in healthy children through prescription drugs or other medical means is extremely controversial. Its proponents argue that healthy children should have the right to use CE under certain conditions. Furthermore, they emphasize the positive potential of a decreasing talent gap in schools and a compensation of social disadvantages. Opponents warn of side-effects, irreparable developmental damage, violation of norms of fairness, and potential coercion to take medication.

While the actual prevalence of pediatric CE is unknown, it is predicted to be on the rise. Parents, who are important stakeholders in this forecasted trend, have been strongly neglected in CE-research and many researchers have strongly recommended further study, particularly in this area.

The ECL project responds to this demand and will enrich the debate with empirical data. By using experimental and classical survey elements, it aims at understanding, assessing, and explaining enhancement strategies by (potential) parents. The ECL project will investigate parents’ roles, attitudes, motives, goals, views about the moral acceptability of pediatric CE, demographic/social context, and current enhancement behavior regarding their children. The analysis will include different enhancement strategies such as pharmaceuticals, brain stimulation, and special nutrition.

The results of the ECL project will provide insights into several processes and key variables influencing pediatric CE, ultimately aiming at stimulating interdisciplinary scholarly, political, and ethical discussions about pediatric CE and potentially supporting decisions, harm prevention, and policy-making.