brain graphic exploding
© Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
People with dark personality traits are more likely to want to enhance their brain power with futuristic technologies, according to new research published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement.

"Enhancement of human abilities has been a prominent topic throughout human history, but has received little attention from psychological research," said study author Elena Schönthaler of the University of Graz.

"Nowadays, thanks to advanced technology, there are significantly more possibilities and means to optimize one's abilities. Finding out who would use enhancement methods has thus become an urgent question to answer. Our research aimed to shed more light onto individual differences, personality traits, and inner values of those who would enhance themselves using technological methods or devices."

In the study, 450 participants completed scientifically-validated questionnaires that measured their personality traits. The researchers were particularly interested in the "Big Five" personality traits, along with the so-called "Dark Triad" — Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. The participants also completed an assessment of their personal values.

The researchers then presented the participants with five different (hypothetical) transhumanism-inspired methods to improve cognitive abilities. For example, "Imagine that the pharmaceutical industry has developed the drug VG-13, which improves cognitive abilities. According to the manufacturers, VG-13 does not only increase intelligence, but also improves attention, concentration, memory, and many other brain functions. This happens due to a stronger activation of the responsible brain areas. The effect of VG-13 decreases 12 hours after the intake, therefore another dose has to be consumed for a new effect."

In addition to pharmacological enhancement, the methods included two types of brain stimulation, genetic enhancement, and mind uploading. After reading about each method, the participants indicated how likely they would be to use the method if it existed in real-life. They were also asked to report any ethical concerns they had about the method.

The researchers found that several personality traits and personal values were associated with a greater willingness to use the self-enhancement methods.

"Personality traits such as the Dark Triad traits (Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy), vulnerable narcissism, or the Big Five (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism), and human values are indeed associated with the desire to enhance oneself using technological methods," Schönthaler told PsyPost.

"Specifically, individuals high in agreeableness and conscientiousness and/or individuals following more conservative or self-transcending values (e.g., caring for the well-being of others) are less likely to accept self-enhancement methods."

"However, individuals high in Dark Triad traits and vulnerable narcissism and/or individuals following self-interested values are more likely to accept enhancement methods for their own use," Schönthaler explained. "This indicates that personality and values should be taken into account when investigating enhancement methods, especially to prevent misuse of enhancement methods with possibly negative consequences."

But someone isn't necessarily exhibiting signs of a "dark" personality just because they desire to enhance themselves. The researchers noted that the associations they uncovered were statistically significant but relatively weak. There are likely many other factors that influence a person's desire to self-enhance.

"One caveat is the exclusive examination of personality variables and values," Schönthaler said. "Measuring other possibly related constructs could give more information about underlying motives for accepting enhancement and its relationship to personality and values. Furthermore, it might seem worthwhile to include measures of intelligence and other ability constructs since enhancement methods mostly aim at abilities and skills."

The study, "Super‑Men and Wonder‑Women: the Relationship Between the Acceptance of Self‑enhancement, Personality, and Values", was authored by Elena M. D. Schönthaler, Gabriela Hofer, Sandra Grinschgl, and Aljoscha C. Neubauer.