German focus groups in an educational context

In cooperation with the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz the University of Stuttgart conducted two focus groups under the headline ‘Improving cognitive performance with pharmaceuticals and devices’ in an educational context.

Being still in physical and mental development, pupils find themselves in competition over the best marks to get the best jobs or places at universities and are therefore a target group for neuro-enhancement products. The NERRI-partners’ approach to get an insight about the current relevance of enhancement practices in everyday life at German schools and attitudes towards neuro-enhancement was to invite parents as well as teachers to take part in two 3 hours moderated in depth discussions. Before entering the discussion itself, the participants had the possibility to get an overview about neuro-enhancement in general and currently available substances and devices in an introductive presentation. The events’ design enabled the organizers to start with an exchange of the participant’s own experiences and an explicit discussion about their derived attitudes and later on lead them to a more open debate about possible impacts of a regular consumption of neuro-enhancers on society. During this process the participants were able to set their own priorities and the debate focused on risks and side-effects, long-term consequences, regulatory issues, competitiveness and solidarity and the need of more communicated information from science and regulatory bodies to the public. In both groups, the participants were eager to share their experiences, learn new insights from another and in most parts form a collective consensus regarding the named issues. Due to the lack of communicated information the participants’ contributions to the discussion were overall sceptical about neuro-enhancement regarding promised benefits and possible unintended physiological, psychological as well as social consequences.