Improving individual reasoning or cognition
Our overall view
Working on this problem could be among the best ways of improving the long-term future, but we know of fewer high-impact opportunities to work on this issue than on our top priority problems.
Table of Contents
Why might it be particularly high impact to improve individual reasoning and cognition?
The case for improving individual reasoning and cognition is similar to the case for improving institutional decision-making: better reasoning and cognitive capacities usually make for better outcomes, especially when problems are subtle or complex. And as with institutions, work on improving individual decision-making is likely to be helpful no matter what challenges come up in the future.
Strategies for improving reasoning might include producing tools, trainings, or research into how to best make better forecasts or decisions, or come to sensible views on complex topics.
Strategies for improving cognition might take a variety of forms — for example, researching safe and potentially beneficial nootropics like creatine. This cause profile on research into pharmacological cognitive enhancement (including but not limited to nootropics) argues this research could rival some of the most cost-effective global health work in its potential for helping people today, and perhaps have longer-run benefits too.
Focusing on individuals seems to us like it will usually be less effective for tackling global problems than taking a more institutional approach, because the decisions you are able to affect aren’t as large. Also, we should expect it to be less neglected than many issues because there are pretty clean incentives for individuals to increase their cognition and decision-making ability: they can use it to improve many aspects of their lives, and there are no coordination or principal–agent problems.
All that said, it may be more promising if you discover a novel technique, or if you are able to improve the reasoning of large segments of the population or target your efforts at the most influential decision-makers, such as leaders of important institutions. (See the Update Project for an example of the latter kind of strategy.) This might also start to blur the boundary between improving institutional decision-making and improving individual reasoning — for example, if you were able to help institutional leaders with their reasoning and decision-making.
Learn more about improving individual reasoning and cognition
- The Center for Applied Rationality’s mission page
- Cause profile: Cognitive enhancement research by George Altman
- Bayesian Mindset by Holden Karnofsky
- Podcast: Julia Galef on making humanity more rational, what EA does wrong, and why Twitter isn’t all bad
- Podcast: Spencer Greenberg on stopping valueless papers from getting into top journals
Read next: Explore other pressing world problems
Want to learn more about global issues we think are especially pressing? See our list of issues that are large in scale, solvable, and neglected, according to our research.
Plus, join our newsletter and we’ll mail you a free book
Join our newsletter and we’ll send you a free copy of The Precipice — a book by philosopher Toby Ord about how to tackle the greatest threats facing humanity.