Neurodoping in Chess to Enhance Mental Stamina

Elizabeth Shaw* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article will discuss substances/techniques that target the brain in order to enhance sports performance (known as “neurodoping”). It will consider whether neurodoping in mind sports, such as chess, is unethical and whether it should be a crime. Rather than focusing on widely discussed objections against doping based on harm/risk to health, this article will focus specifically on the
objection that neurodoping, even if safe, would undermine the “spirit of sport”. This topic deserves attention, given that a) relatively safe methods of performance enhancement are increasingly being explored in the context of chess [14],[1]) the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) currently prohibits
performance enhancement if it undermines the spirit of sport, even if it is not dangerous to health; and c) doping (even if safe) seems to fit the current definition of fraud in England and Wales, in certain circumstances, and some academics have argued that non-harmful doping should be prosecuted as
fraud. The article will have the following structure. Firstly, it will briefly explain why chess can be considered a sport, since classifying chess in this way is a relatively recent development, at least in Western Europe, and remains somewhat controversial. Secondly, it will outline some possible substances/methods that
could be used in order to enhance chess performance and will justify the article’s focus on one potential form of neurodoping in particular – “mental stamina enhancement”. This type of neurodoping would aim at enabling a competitor’s cognitive skills to function at roughly the same level for the duration of a chess tournament, reducing the extent to which the competitor’s performance declines with fatigue. Thirdly, this article will cast doubt on arguments that mental stamina enhancement would be unethical and contrary to the spirit of sport (as defined by WADA). It will focus on the following aspects of the spirit of sport: dedication and commitment, naturalness and fair play. This article will stress the importance of distinguishing the ethical argument that doping violates the “spirit of sport” from the definitional objection that once doping becomes routine in a certain “sport”, it would not count as a sport anymore. The fourth section will discuss the definitional objection and will argue that mental stamina enhancement in chess might disqualify chess from being a “sport” (according to traditional, rather than revisionist definitions of sport). Yet it will argue that this definitional objection does not provide strong enough grounds to justify criminalising non-harmful neurodoping. The fifth section of the article will respond to a recent proposal to treat doping as a criminal offence and will argue that criminalising non-harmful neurodoping would be disproportionate.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Nov 2020

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Neurodoping in Chess to Enhance Mental Stamina'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this