stimulants may not make kids lose touch with their “authentic selves”

In a pilot study (i.e., not a full-fledged study, but a smaller one to be followed up on later that was interesting enough to publish nevertheless), a researcher attempted to obtain empirical evidence supporting/disconfirming the bioethics concern that stimulants may alter children’s authenticity. She looked at children’s moral self-understandings, and found that they perceive themselves as a bad person when they are unmedicated and a bad person when they are on medication (although less bad). For the pilot study she interviewed only children who were currently medicated (she claims that it is difficult to get unmedicated children to participate in interviews, and I believe her), but she has received funding to carry out a bigger study with medicated, unmedicated and normal children.

So this is good, right? Children see their core selves as persisting despite medication, and aren’t viewing it as a magic cure for the fundamentally bad people they believe they are?

From her abstract:

This finding complicates two bioethical assumptions: That the authentic person is inherently good, and that there is inherent value in the experience of having access to a core, authentic dimension of oneself.

And yeah, maybe the kids aren’t accurate about their REALLY REAL TRUE core dimensions of theirselves. If anyone knows how to measure the true core dimensions of one’s self – not just a person’s perception of themself, or others’ perceptions of them, or a score on a test that some other people decided measured core dimensions – you can make a lot of money from self-help junkies, from the legal system, from HR departments, etc.

(I’m inclined to believe that what should be investigated is why we believe in core, authentic dimensions of the self despite loads of evidence for situational determinants of behavior – and luckily there is a lot of interesting research in that domain, which I may write about some other time…)

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2 Responses to stimulants may not make kids lose touch with their “authentic selves”

  1. Michael says:

    This vaguely reminds me of a poster I saw at SPSP. The investigator wanted to know if people feel more authentic when their personality traits match up with their behavior. So they had participants take the Big 5 test, and then had them do a beeper study. At random intervals, they were asked to rate the extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism they were expressing at that moment, and also rate how authentic they felt. In fact, there turned out to be main effects for state behavior — everyone felt more authentic when they were being extraverted, even if they dispositionally rated as an introvert!

    There are a number of possible explanations, and we shouldn’t ignore the fact that extraversion is strongly linked to feeling good, which is probably linked to feeling authentic. But it’s also worth noting that when you’re acting extraverted, that means you’re in a social situation where you’re functioning well. And maybe that really _is_ more authentic, because it means you’re able to do and say what you want, with social support and social facilitation. Could it be that anything that makes you more functional buys you some authenticity, because then you can do the things that you dispositionally want to do? if drugs make you only 80% as authentic as you used to be, but double your ability to make things, say things, and act towards others in authentic ways, then the result is that your output of authenticity has gone up by 60%! It’s not quite that simple, but this idea does belong in the running.

  2. resonance says:

    (SPSP = major social and personality psychology academic conference)
    (beeper study = you give people beepers and beep them occasionally and they record what you ask them to)

    I think your explanation makes a lot of sense. And it kind of sucks that introverts don’t have the thing you need to maintain yourself in situations where other people reward you.

    Unless you are extraverted but people don’t like you.

    I like your equation with authenticity vs output of authenticity. I don’t know if it’s accurate, but it’s a nicely complex middle ground, though sadly it’s probably not as appealing as “Ritalin robs you of your authenticity!” “Ritalin makes you more able be your genuine true inner self!”

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