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

July 14, 2007

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…)