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Studies show that people have different levels of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is another way of saying a person's body chemistry is such that it produces enthusiasm for doing hard work and creating great things. I predict that someday a drug will be able to mimic or stimulate whatever body chemistry produces intrinsic motivation. When that drug is developed - and I predict that it will be, or maybe it already exists - could it ever become legal and widely prescribed?

For a drug to become legal it needs to be safe, and it needs to address a real medical problem in a way that benefits society. Let's assume this motivation drug produces the same body chemistry that any naturally-motivated person enjoys. That sort of drug seems safer than introducing entirely foreign chemistry to a body. It would probably be no riskier than testosterone injections or other hormone therapies, meaning there would be some risk, but not enough to keep it off the market.

The next hurdle involves labeling a lack of motivation as a medical problem. I think that would be the easy part. Any pharmaceutical company that creates such a drug would spend huge amounts to get that designation. And their argument would be solid. A lack of motivation can ruin a person's life as well as the life of anyone who is economically linked to that person. That's a strong argument. The definition of a medical need is fairly flexible.

Obviously some unmotivated people are influenced by their circumstances more than their body chemistries. It's hard to feel motivated if you're surrounded by people who feel doomed, look doomed, and tell you that you are doomed too. Still, we see highly motivated people emerge from just about any form of poverty. So we know that chemistry - if it is just right - can overcome environment. As a practical matter, it might be cheaper and easier to tweak the motivational chemistry of people who are in bad circumstances instead of trying to fix their circumstances and hope that's enough to stimulate their natural motivation.

I can also imagine Republicans and Democrats being on the same page and supporting such a drug. Republicans think poor people lack motivation, so a motivation pill would fit right into their ideology. Democrats tend to go where the scientific consensus leads (evolution, climate change), and if science says unmotivated people can be helped by a prescription drug, why not?

This idea is easy enough to test. I believe the medication for ADHD acts like speed (and feels like motivation) for people who don't have ADHD. Just pick a poor community and put a random sample of volunteers on the drug and see what happens. If the drugged kids get better grades and the drugged adults increase their incomes compared to peers, and they have no worse side effects than ADHD patients, you have everything you need to allow doctors to prescribe the drug off label.

I think you'll see some version of this happen after science finishes chipping away at the glorification of free will, and society starts to understand itself as a bunch of moist robots that sometimes need chemical tuning.

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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 21, 2012
[Democrats tend to go where the scientific consensus leads]

haha... oh, Scott. You're just adorable.

Sep 21, 2012
I am motivated to respond to this post.

I am not motivated to say anything meaningful.
Sep 21, 2012
I'll echo Dingbat's comments. I recently starting taking Adderall to help my focus and concentration (in my case the problem is Asperger's Syndrome, not ADHD, though all of these types of disorders overlap by quite a bit). I really cannot describe strongly enough how it has changed my life for the better.

The though of doing simple, every day, boring tasks used to bring on crushing waves of depression, to the point where I could not even stand to think about doing them. There was a point in my life when I couldn't even, for example, maintain insurance on my car, because the tedium of doing so filled me with such nameless dread. I realize how stupid that sounds, and to anyone who says, "Wow, just grow up and be an adult", I totally get it and wouldn't blame you at all for that attitude. Intellectually I hated it, and knew that it made no rational sense. None of that mattered.

It's like telling someone who has nightmares, "Why are you afraid of them? It's just a dream." They already know that.

It's weird how it operated, too, because things that were HARD were easiest for me. Complicated, intricate tasks that required enormous mental effort? No problem. Going grocery shopping? Never gonna happen. I could sit in front of a computer for hours, totally absorbed, working through incredibly intricate coding problems. But I couldn't balance my checkbook. And I don't mean I would forget to balance it, like some stereotypical absent-minded professor. I mean I physically and mentally Could. Not. Do. It. My checkbook terrified me.

Now, though, when something needs doing, I can just do it, and it almost brings me to tears to know I can. Wow, I think sometimes, so this is what it feels like to be a normal person. It's wonderful. Like Dingbat, I don't think it is a matter of motivation; the motivation was always there. It was just a matter of brain chemistry, of unlocking the "reward" that most people get naturally when they do mundane tasks.

That reward center for the mundane, that's where Scott's drug will operate. What I wonder about, though, is what would happen if you turn that sucker up to 11. There are extremes in both directions, and maybe we would be swapping out ADD for OCD.
Sep 21, 2012
Thank God you're a cartoonist and not a doctor or a scientist.
I can image a strip where "Mad Dog Dogbert" tries to improve mankind by giving them drugs and making them all like himself. Then in the last panel, Wally comes up with a one-liner that puts all "Mad Dog Dogbert's" ambitions/motivations to rest.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 21, 2012
There was a drug named Forced March given to British troops from the late 1890's until the 1920's. It was a mixture of motivational drugs. I will let y'all figure out what was in it.
Sep 21, 2012
Scott - this is totally off-topic, but I would like to make you aware of an article written by Dr. Thomas Sowell, the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution. You can read his bona fides here: http://www.hoover.org/fellows/9767.

He has just penned a mongraph titled " "Trickle Down Theory" and "Tax Cuts For the Rich" "

It's available on Amazon, or at the Hoover Institution Press at this URL: http://www.hooverpress.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=1582

I'd love to get your take on his point of view. It does cost $5 to download, though. I'd be glad to reimburse you for the cost if you'd care to read it.


Phantom II
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 21, 2012
Sep 21, 2012
"Republicans think poor people lack motivation, so a motivation pill would fit right into their ideology."

I agree with the first half of that sentence, or at least that the sentiment is widely spread among republicans, but I doubt that they really want poor people to be too motivated, as such motivation may spur more of them on to the polls, which might be detrimental to the republican agenda.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2012
A Drug that motivates people? Damn, where can I get some of that, I'll dump it in the drinking water at work.
Sep 20, 2012
We don't necessarily need a new drug, just a way to stop people from taking daily doses of the Stupid pill.

But Scott:
" Democrats tend to go where the scientific consensus leads..." Really ?

GMO's, vaccinations, BPA, trace chemo phobias. The Precautionary Principle itself is anti-science.
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2012
Good idea. Glad to see that after his recent slump, Scott is back on form.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2012
Thanks but a drug that turns every baldie with a swastika tatoo into a potential Hitler isn't my idea of a better world.
Could we please keep the doping at a level where the people who use it can only hurt themselves?
Sep 20, 2012
I was with you until you said, "climate change." Just goes to show you that even intelligent people can confuse ideological opinion with scientific fact. Not only that, but your simplistic view of how Republicans and Democrats view those in poverty is misguided at best and well beneath your usual powers of rational thought.

I can't speak for Democrats, because I am not one. But I can tell you that Republicans don't think that "poor people lack motivation." Republicans in general feel that poor people lack a belief that they can rise above their poverty and often lack economic opportunity, and that that lack of belief is reinforced by certain elements in government. If you look at the breakdown of the unemployed, it's certainly higher in younger, lower-educated and minority communities. Republicans want a strong economy, which means more jobs and more opportunity. We also want things like school choice, giving parents the opportunity to decide how to best educate their children.

The Washington D.C. public school system is one of the worst in the nation. A coalition of parents and politicians got together and started a school voucher program there. Educational accomplishment went up. When Obama became president, he canceled the program. I can only guess at his motivation for this, but them, as they say, is the facts. One possible clue as to his motivation was a 2009 letter written to President Obama by Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA, who called the voucher program "an ongoing threat to public education in the District of Columbia" and urged Obama to "use your voice to help eliminate this threat" by opposing "any efforts to extend this ineffective program." Some might say that the NEA is more interested in power than in ensuring that poor children get a quality education. Hard to get motivated when you get the rug pulled out from under you by those who are supposed to be focused on your success. And there is one of the downsides to motivation.

It's hard to define motivation as a single force or emotion, such as ADHD, and as such it seems it would be difficult to get a drug to "treat" it. I don't think it's a lack of motivation per se; I think it's more a lack of belief in your ability to get ahead, or at least a lack of desire to rise above where you are. Cultural influences can hold people back as well. When all your peers are telling you that you're a sell-out to your culture if you do well in school or show desire to rise above the level of others, it's tough to stay focused.

All in all, I'd say environment has a larger effect on motivation than any drug could ever have. Give people opportunity, and make them believe that they can achieve if they put their minds to it, get government out of their way, and stand back. The results will amaze you.
Sep 20, 2012

taking place, you will most definitely have groundwater contamination. The science doesn't back up that position much at all. Remember when penn and teller got those leftist, anti capitalist, environmental protesters to sign a petition against water? A broken clock can still be right rltwice a day.
Sep 20, 2012
I'd hardly say that the left really believes whatever science says. I've seen several environmental scares that we're heavily pimped by leftists that turned out to be false. The dens are believers in climate change, but they'd probably believe it even if the science wasn't completely sound. Just look into fracking. Yes, there are a few cases of damage, and fracking certainly carries the same risks of any widespread drilling operations, but many leftists argue that if you have fracking taking
Sep 20, 2012
Also, methylphenidate is a controlled substance because it has a very high potential for abuse. In theraputic doses, it does increase cognition, attention, and alertness (in exactly the same way as caffiene). In high doses it is pretty much like speed, but if you were to take the same quantity of methylphenidate as a dose of speed, you would die.

Hence, it is a controlled substance, and would never be prescribed off label.
Sep 20, 2012
Scott, the realm of neurobiology doesn't exactly understand how phychoactive drugs work to begin with. I have ADHD (sort of, it's complicated), and take medication for it. Methylphenidate, the most common medication for it is categorized as a CNS stimulant, and they think it works by blocking reabsorbtion of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, in the brain.

The net effect is that the cognitive portions of the brain are 'more awake'. This is important to me because my ADHD is really just a symptom of something called CNS hypersomnolence, which is something like narcolepsy. Interesting trivia, the original indication of methylphenidate is as a treatment for narcolepsy.

Also interesting, many neuropathies with behavioral aspects have to do with abnormalities in the the pain/reward mechanisms in the brain - that is, the motivational centers. Thus a lack of motivation can be caused by a large tolerance for pain, or a low pleasure response.

Unfortuneately, just repairing or enhancing these mechanisms is no assurance that people will alter their behavior for the better. If you increase the pain response in an individual they may become addicted to painkillers or alcohol. If you increase their pleasure response they may be satisfied with doing less for the same neurological reward.

Likewise if you deaden pain, or pleasure, they may be able to kick bad habits, but also be unable to form good ones.

In other words, people have been self-medicating their level of motivation for all time. You will not find a new pill that fixes everything.

+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2012
I get that some people are born with more drive, grit, motivation - whatever - than others - and I think looking at brain chemistry is interesting, but I think it is probably a much more complicated story than ADD.

I have ADD - and only recently, at age 47, began taking medication for it. I take it because I work from home - and want to be able to deliver 8 hours worth of work in 8 hours - rather than wandering all over the place and finishing up projects at 2am - and not spending time with my family because I have "too much work". It was easier in an office. If I was physically present for 8 hours, I felt I earned my keep. Now, I can't justify billing for dilbert or news-reading breaks.

The medication does help me focus and deliver more and better work. It is not a matter of motivation. I want to deliver good work -whether focused or not. It is a matter of sitting at the keyboard and marshaling my attention on the task at hand - rather than glancing at the clock and realizing the "short break" I thought I was taking had turned into 2 hours reading NY Times articles (or commenting on the dilbert blog).

The ADD is inherited - no question. Motivation is probably a mix of environment and DNA - both of which may impact brain chemistry.

I write about underachievers a lot. These are bright, bored kids who drift through school - earning grades just high enough to avoid attracting attention - but never developing their potential. I believe that most of those kids, placed in a more stimulating and supportive environment - would perform at a much higher level. When my oldest son showed signs of becoming an underachiever, I pulled him out of school and homeschooled him. It turned him around completely and he is doing very well today.

It wasn't just offering more challenging academics. It was the whole environment of spending time with people who were passionate about their various fields of interest and who expressed respect and admiration for others who excelled in their field. Most kids really respond to signals from others about what is important -and if their peer group values the slacker ethic - that has a much bigger influence than some odd, hectoring teacher.

Also, kids from dysfunctional families are often just trying to survive. They don't have energy left over to put into trying to make a better future - unless other adults make a real effort to mentor them. It's too much to ask for kids to figure out how to prepare for adulthood on their own - while navigating a minefield of adult-made crises.

That said, my youngest son is intrinsically driven. He would be hyper-motivated under any conditions, I believe. In some cases that works against him. Academically, his brothers read more widely and developed a stronger intellectual base because they pursued real interests. The youngest always wanted a plan. He wanted to know what he needed to do to succeed. He gets really upset when he doesn't test as well or get the same grades as easily as his brothers.

In his case, he's now found a sport he can pursue intensely - at a national, and potentially Olympic level. He can follow a plan and see a work = progress return. He needs an outlet like that - but as I said, his intensity is not always an advantage in a world in which taking the time to explore new ideas helps build the kind of well-rounded personalities and thinkers that top schools want to see.

He will be very successful in whatever he choses to do - but he will need to learn to value and work with others who have mellower personalities.

In other words, if we found a medication that gave kids like my oldest son the drive and motivation of kids like my youngest - we would not like the results. Better to figure out how to help kids of every personality type make the most of their gifts and abilities.
Sep 20, 2012
Hey Scott and other blog readers,

motivation can be modulated by various physical situations, but also, there are structural aspects of brain development that affect motivation. So just talking about the possibility of !$%*!$%* around with certain chemicals can't ever be the whole story.

Just thought you'd like to know that Scott. Until we are smarter than our brains (and how could we do that?) some things will remain behind the iron curtian of mystery.
Sep 20, 2012
One practical problem with test marketing this approach with ADHD drugs:

These drugs are Schedule II controlled substances, meaning you have to jump through extra hoops to fill a prescription. I believe this is due to their high street value. So, ifif you distribute them to the poor, a good portion of them would likely be sold rather than consumed by the intended recipients, which, among other problems, would yield misleading results for your experiment.
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