Human Neuropsychology, Week 1

Happy block five, everyone! Actually, happy start of fifth block’s second week. First week flew by, as usual. My name is Jordyn for any of you who may not know me. I am a senior neuroscience major, biochemistry minor. I’m currently taking Human Neuropsychology, a 400-level senior seminar course with professor Kristi Erdal.
The class is fantastic so far. For so many reasons. To start, the subject matter is undoubtedly intriguing. Neuropsychology is the study of how the structure and function of the brain influence and mediate psychological processes (like memory or attention) and behavior. In our class we are talking a lot about what can go wrong and what deficits can arise from an insult to the brain. An insult may be physical trauma from a car accident, it could be death of brain tissue from a stroke, or it could be chemical damage from a toxin. Depending on the type of insult, and its location in the brain, a variety of deficits may develop. Discovering what those deficits are and subsequently leading the patient down the road to recovery are some responsibilities a clinical neuropsychologist may take on. Kristi, our professor, has training in this area. During class, she oftentimes includes personal stories of the types of injuries and deficits she’s seen in her patients.
Kristi is the second reason class has been fantastic so far. Kristi is fun to listen to. She always has interesting stories to add to lecture. She uses funny voices. She makes lecture an experience and something to look forward to. She’s entertaining. I highly recommend taking a class with her if you can. I will be taking one more course with her, Abnormal Psychology 7th block this spring, and I can’t wait.
This class is also great because of the students. It’s filled with bright, fun, passionate and dedicated people. Many of them, but not all, I have had classes with before. Your fellow peers in a class can really make or break the class, and I lucked out on this one— they’re all great.
The first day of week one consisted of going through a brief history of Neuropsychology and learning numerous vocab words and acronyms important to this field of study. We talk a lot in acronyms — TBI, MTBI, MRI, PET, VIQ, FSIQ, WAIS, etc.
Once we built a foundation of the language used by neuropsychologists we got to dive into the really fun stuff. We learned about different imaging techniques for the brain, and what each of these can tell you. MRI scans can show quite detailed images of the brain, but don’t tell you anything about the function of the brain. PET scans and fMRI scans can tell you about function and what parts of the brain may be active during a specific task, but have less resolution than strictly an MRI. I had learned about many of these imaging techniques before, but it was nice to learn more in depth what each can tell you and when they are appropriate to use.

A simple MRI scan of the brain. Resolution is quite good, but there is no information about function. Source: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_resonance_imaging

 

A PET scan can provide insight regarding function. Here, the red and yellow indicate areas of higher activity in the brain when an individual performed two tasks. The resolution of a PET scan is poor, but it offers functional information. Source: http://aids.hallym.ac.kr/d/kns/tutor/medical/01premed2/chapter45/petsh.html

Something else I really appreciate about Kristi is how interactive her classes are. Wednesday we talked about different neuropsychological assessments. How do we test somebody’s mental status? Their language? Visual-spatial functioning? Memory? Intelligence? What about executive functioning? Rather than a boring lecture of “this test can be used to test __________”, Kristi brought out neuropsychological tests and we ran through many of them ourselves. For example, the Rey Complex Figure can be used to test visual-spatial functioning.

The Rey Complex Figure. Source: http://editthis.info/psy3242/Rey-Osterreith_complex_figure

A person is shown an image, gets to view it for a short period of time, and then the image is taken away and the individual must draw the image. How the individual approaches drawing the figure, and what the figure looks like when they’re finished can provide insight regarding the health of parts of the brain important for visual-spatial abilities. We did this in class, and although many of us forgot some of the details, we were able to draw the figure with proficient success. However, an individual with damage to the right hemisphere may only draw the finer details of the image and lose sight of the overall, holistic image. Simple tests like this are very telling about brain functioning (if administered and interpreted appropriately).

An example of how an individual with right hemisphere brain damage may draw the Rey Complex Figure. Source: Ha, J.-W., Pyun, S.-B., Hwang, Y.-M., & Sim, H. (2012). Lateralization of cognitive functions in aphasia after right brain damage. Yonsei Medical Journal, 53, 486-494.

To end first week, we talked about perceptual disorders. We talked about disorders involving vision, hearing and tactile (touch) sensations. I could go on for hours (or, I guess, pages?) about these disorders. I’ll tell you about one of the most fascinating ones. Anton’s Syndrome is a visual perceptive disorder. Individuals with this disorder are blind, but they’re unaware of it. Think about that for a minute. Somebody cannot see the world around them, but they believe and act as if they can. How this type of deficit can arise is mind boggling, and the precise anatomy of the disorder is still incompletely understood. But essentially, in addition to damage that resulted in the blindness, there is a disconnect between the part of the brain that allows for vision and the area of the brain that allows for conscious awareness that you are in fact seeing. Patients may come up with excuses as to why they bump into chairs when walking or why they can’t identify an object when asked to do so visually. They may say “Oh, I just wasn’t paying attention when I bumped into that, clumsy me” or “Ahhh, I’m wearing my old glasses, can you bring it closer?” This is just ONE of many disorders we discussed on Friday alone. THEY ARE ALL SO COOL TO LEARN ABOUT. This coming week, we will learn about motor disorders, attentional disorders and language disorders. I am so excited. Something else unique about this class (and many other 400-level seminar courses in the psychology department) is that we will be learning from our peers. Rather than Kristi lecturing from now on, we will learn from our peers and we will teach our peers. It is an intimidating experience at first, but it is an incredibly worthwhile experience for everyone involved (my last class, PY433 Neuropharmacology was set up the set up the same way). I will be lecturing with another peer on emotional disorders the end of third week, and I’ll be sure to share my experience from the preparation of the lecture to the delivery of it when the time comes.
If you couldn’t tell already, I love this class, and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all!

The Search to Avoid Research

Where to start? What do I like to do? I like neuroscience, it would be cool to leave the country. Neuroscience job abroad, now that’s a lofty goal. Ok what else? The prison system fascinates me, though I have no background in that. I like to rock climb- what if I worked in rope access? I guess that would get cold in the winter. I could always just stall and do retail somewhere.

 

It was August at this point, the summer was winding down and I was on my way to my hometown in Massachusetts. I hadn’t been home in a while and I asked my mother if she knew of anyone who might know of a place I could work- she had recently begun a job in management of online courseware at MIT. She must have met a few important STEM-ers along the way. She knew a recent grad named Claire who was working on an online neuroscience course. I googled her, and found a her speaking at  TEDx.

 

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Woah! She’s about my age and she’s spoken at TEDx? How cool. As I watched the video I became more and more impressed with her accomplishments and stage presence. At the center of the video I became excited- she began talking about a project that had turned neuroscience lab work into an interactive computer game. This is what I’m interested in. In all honesty, the prospect of working in a science lab scared me- doing tedious, slow work and never being sure whether you’ll end up with a product. In  making this computer game, they’re taking research beyond the lab. Regardless of whether they find significant results in each individual project, they had a successful way to get to the results. This is cool. This is innovation. I wanted to be a part of this. If you didn’t have time to watch the video, EyeWire is a “Game to Map the Brain” where anyone, anywhere can create an account and trace their way through a branch of a neuron(brain cell) as it weaves and wanders throughout the retina- the part of the eye that translates light into electrical signals, which is the language of the brain. It’s kind of like a virtual, 3D, paint-by-numbers where a player receives points and powers by painting. If you are interested in playing, it requires no scientific background:

The Game Itself

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I emailed Claire about having brunch and discussing opportunities for me in the neuroscience field. It seemed weird to me, to email someone I’d never met and ask for a favor or connection. She would not know my credentials, my history, anything. I had done nothing for her. But I guess that’s how all this works- you ask anyone you can. And you expect nothing, you just hope. She sent me a message riddled with excitement and smiley faces. We met for brunch and she spoke about labs at MIT, I explained my interest in doing work outside conventional lab settings. I didn’t mention EyeWire, because it felt uncomfortable to mention that I listened to her speak for twenty minutes before meeting her. In hindsight that was silly. I should have brought it up, but luckily, she did.

Claire arranged a second brunch where I would meet two of the most important people at EyeWire, after which I would get to peek at their lab. I found a fantastic parking spot right outside of the cafe where we would be meeting, so moral was high. My car looked beat up and dusty after its recent cross country drive and encounter with a metal pole. But I thought I looked put together. Brunch went well- I tried my best not to be shy. On our way from brunch to the lab we passed my car and I suppressed my urge to break the current silence with the useless filler sentence “That’s my car”. I needed to removed association from my block-break road-trip lifestyle, for I was playing the role of Future Science Office Woman today. The “lab” was an office with lots of posters and a colorful couch and decorations. Everyone was under 30 years old. This was the hippest science lab ever. I received a brief tour and then everyone had to get back to work.

I returned home with excitement and confusion. This was the closest thing I would have to an interview with EyeWire and it was so unofficial. They said they were interested in having me intern, but on what principals? All I had shown them were my abilities to eat a sandwich and show some enthusiasm. I spent the next few months sending emails, and follow-up did-you-receive-my-last-email emails. I sent them my resumé and a writing sample but I think the realest thing I showed them was that my interest was big enough that I would not take silence as a “no”. Mere persistence doesn’t seem like a credential but I guess when it really comes working in the real world, skills can only get you so far while passion allows you to learn on the job, work diligently and put in an extra effort. That’s how I’m going to justify it all, but in a sense I fell into my internship. I showed up and it just happened. From this experience I hope to be able to keep my moral up when I apply to jobs in the future, because sometimes not getting a job will be random, just as receiving a position at EyeWire has been a bit random. In the future I might not know the right person or due to luck, the person I interview with will have already fallen in love with another applicant. And maybe another time, due to chance, I’ll just fall into a position.

Last week I began my internship with EyeWire, and my next post will be what I have done, seen, and thought so far.

Hi guys! This is my first blog post ever. I am Nina, a Colorado College undergraduate studying Neuroscience for those of you who do not know me. I will be maintaining this blog as I see fit for the next many months.  I will make my first post about how I came to be where I am today, because I am an artist like Quentin Tarantino.

Me sporting my "wtf am I going to do with my semester off?" face

Me sporting my “wtf am I going to do with my semester off?” face

As a Junior in college, I am at the age of the “study abroad”. Last year when I was imagining where I could study abroad, I came up with a short list of random locations. Locations that my school had advertised, that people I was acquainted with had mentioned, and that I thought sounded kinda cool. Japan, Copenhagen, Brazil, South Africa, Nepal, I don’t know. All sounded foreign…worldly…abstract. None of them were particularly known for hosting Neuroscience majors. None of them particularly drew me, I just wanted to travel in general. All of them had a price tag equal to a semester at my college. I remembered a thought I had had in the past: If someone gave me the option of a four-year private college  experience and degree or a bank account with four years worth of tuition in it, I think I could grow successful with either. Choosing would be difficult. A college experience is unique, said to be the best years of one’s life. But I could educate myself for much longer than four years with tuition sized stipend. What if I applied this question to a semester? What if I didn’t participate in formal education for the semester, but I still found a way to learn. I had extra credits, and didn’t see myself gaining enough from taking four more classes- on campus or off – to justify choosing formal education this semester. This wouldn’t mean access to a $27,000 bank account -if only-, but it could give me access to other opportunities. I could get a taste of the real world, I could take a break from school while many of my friends were off campus for their study abroad, and I could meet people who I could reconnect with later in life. Breaking out of the college bubble would allow me to return to my senior year fresh and recharged for academics and college culture. And so my quest began for an opportunity, a job, a volunteer position, an internship, a training… anything. Anything uncharted.

We All Hate Helens, We Hate All Helens

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Last night we read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, an interpretation of the life of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, and of the twelve maids that are hung after the slaughter of the suitors. Atwood asks in her introduction, “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?”

In class, we drew connections between the Helen/Penelope relationship of The Penelopiad and the Helen/Annie relationship in Bridesmaids.

  • In The Penelopiad, Helen calls her cousin, Penelope, “little duck” or “little ducky.” In Bridesmaids, Helen constantly refers to Annie as Lillian’s “childhood friend,” and calls her “cute” or “sweet.”
  • In The Penelopiad and Bridesmaids, Helen slyly draws attention to how she is prettier than Penelope/Annie, disguising it as a compliment or assurance. On page 154, Helen tells Penelope, “Divine beauty is such a burden. At least you’ve been spared that!” On the flight to Vegas, Helen tells Annie that having a little scotch is ok, that she does it all the time and is fine, “and I’m a lot smaller than you, so–” 
  • Star and Sandor pointed out a great one – on page 188, Helen tells Penelope, “We could do a trip to Las Vegas. Girls’s night out! But I forgot–that’s not your style.” Annie wanted to have the bachelorette party at Lillian’s family’s lake house.

Star found a great still from Bridesmaids showing that the airlines that the bridesmaids took to Vegas was called Spartan Airlines. Helen is in her element, buying everyone’s ticket so they can “experience First Class at least once in their lives.”

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In The Penelopiad, Penelope tells us that the dead characters from these myths, such as Helen, Penelope, and Odysseus, can “have another try” at another life, being reborn into the modern world. Penelope explains, “Helen has had more than a few excursions. That’s what she calls them – ‘my little excursion’” (pg 187). Could Bridesmaids Helen be one of these excursions? Haunting.

 

Bachelorette Party

“It’s a lucky person who can read Pride and Prejudice and watch Bridesmaids in the same day. We are lucky.” – Lisa B. Hughes

On Monday night, we watched Bridesmaids (2011). Since the ladies in that film missed out on a rockin’ bachelorette party for Lillian, our “Setting The Table” group decided to throw one for our class.

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If you have seen the movie, what do you think the Vegas bachelorette party would have been like, if Annie hadn’t had them all escorted back to Chicago? Was the flight in fact the bachelorette party? Becca had “a class of alcohol” and explored her sexuality with Rita, Megan invited “not a air marshall” man to have sex with her in the bathroom, and Helen got Annie to get drunk/drugged and do something stupid. A flight is a strange, liminal space, as is Vegas (are we in Paris? Egypt?).

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Is there a Queen Bee in Bridesmaids? Who is it supposed to be? The bride? The maid of honor? Why is Helen such a Mean Girl? She doesn’t have a posse, she doesn’t even really have any friends. In Mean Girls, conflict between Regina and Cady begins when Regina “takes Aaron back.” Their female competition is over a man. Helen and Annie fight over a woman, Lillian. Does this change the methods of fighting?

Lisa explains that this is really a “sad breakup movie.” Does Annie and Lillian’s love and friendship die with Lil’s marriage? Is Annie really joking when she says “No I’m not [excited at the proposal]!”

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(on Sunday we had brunch at Lisa’s house. She baked us a cake of rainbows and smiles)

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Queen Bee

queenbeeWe spent all of class on Thursday dissecting the Queen Bee. Kate, Katherine, Andrew, and Ben (Glen Coco) led us in a discussion about the Queen Bee character in film, literature, and pop culture. We began with this quiz, which I recommend you also take:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mackenziekruvant/which-queen-bee-are-you#.sc8ko5ePxx

my result:

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Bring it on. Lucy got Regina, Star got Blair, Andrew got Rizzo, and Lisa got A Bee (“No one could exist with out you youre always the center of attention and you deserve it. You are a great leader and endlessly loyal to your followers, which makes you a true gem”).

How many Queen Bees can you name? Here are some common qualities:

  • Power and influence over other women and men (but especially women)
  • Cunning, manipulative
  • Attractive
  • Wealthy

A real Queen Bee creates most, if not all the bees in her hive. There can never be two Queens in a hive, and an “old” Queen will fight the up and coming “new” Queen to the death. The Queen Bee doesn’t have a barbed stinger – she can sting over and over again. The worker bees feed the Queen royal jelly.

“I want royal jelly so bad.” – Lisa

Joan Crawford’s character in Queen Bee (1955) fits the role perfectly. She is powerful, beautiful, manipulative, and wealthy. One of the most interesting aspects of her character is the power in her female sexuality. Not only can she manipulate and control men with it, but she can also bring down the women of the Phillip’s house with the same power. She controls the other women’s sexuality (arranging and dressing Jen for her date with Ty) and can ruin them completely by sexually overpowering them and their men (Carol’s suicide).

List the Queen Bees you know. Here is my list:

  • Regina George (Mean Girls)
  • Eva (Queen Bee)
  • Rizzo (Grease)
  • Alison (Pretty Little Liars)
  • Taylor Vaughan (She’s All That)
  • Bianca Stratford (10 things I hate about you)
  • Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada
  • Josie (Josie and the Pussycats)
  • Tom Tom (13 Going On 30)

And which one are you?

 

On Wednesdays We Wear Pink

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“I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me…but I can’t help it that I’m popular.”

Welcome to our Half-Block course, “Queen Bees, Wannabees, and Mean Girls,” taught by self-proclaimed “Wannabee” but suspiciously Queen Bee-ish Professor Lisa B. Hughes.

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You are undoubtably familiar with Mean Girls (2004), or if you’re not, someone you know is. It enriches our vocabulary, is being made into a musical, and causes me to dig through my house to find something pink for Wednesday. But Tina Fey didn’t create the first genius mean girl characters; these have been around for thousands of years.

In our first three days, we have compared Mean Girls to Machiavelli’s The Prince, examined girl power and competition in ancient Greek myths, and watched Joan Crawford wreak havoc in Queen Bee (1955).

Think:

Who are some iconic or memorable pop-culture girl groups or duos?

  • Arachne and Athena,
  • Penelope and Helen,
  • Elizabeth Bennett and Miss Caroline Bingley,
  • The Plastics
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Lorelai and Rory
  • Lucy and Ethel…..the list goes on

How many are all seamless friends? Where do conflicts come from? Can girls be friends? Where do the conflicts in Mean Girls come from? How are they solved?

What is Girl World? Who makes the rules?

  • Those rules are even real. – They were real that time I wore a vest!
  • “Eating with the plastics was like leaving regular world and entering girl world” - “I know how this could be settled in the animal world, but this was girl world, and in girl world all the fighting had to be sneaky.”

Which is better, to bake a cake of rainbow and smiles, or to break the crown and give everyone a piece of it?

Is Brutus just as cute as Caesar?

How has female sexuality been portrayed over the years? How is it alike or different in Queen Bee and Mean Girls?

Are you a Queen Bee, a Wannabee, or a Mean Girl?

“And don’t be wrong” (John Tucker Must Die).

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PS321: Public Policymaking

As an American History – Political Science major, policy is something that I’ve always taken for granted. I frequently discuss the intentions implications of government policy, but I never gave much thought to how it was created. So imagine my enthusiasm when I saw PS321: Public Policymaking on the course schedule. Not only was it a new area for me to think critically about, but it was taught by a new professor, Elizabeth Coggins, who came highly recommended by my advisor. I immediately signed up.

After two blocks of Feminist & Gender Studies to start off the year, I was excited for a return to my comfort zone in Block 3: bread and butter American political science. The first day of class, however, I was shocked to find that half of the class consisted of Environmental Science majors. This is because the course is cross listed as EV373, a requirement for the Environmental Science major. The make up of the class has already proven to be a blessing in disguise. In our first few days we have been able to achieve vibrant discussions, bolstered by the diversity of thought and experiences. Whereas the Political Science majors bring political theory to the table, the Environmental Science students add compelling examples and unique thoughts to class discussions.

Fortunately for me, the course has a heavy (yet rewarding) workload, without the high levels of stress typical of fourth week. Throughout our three and a half weeks, we will examine the policymaking process through broad theoretical analysis, examination of specific case studies, and visits from guest speakers. Our learning will culminate in a ten page research paper and presentation on the policy area of our choice.

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In the first few days, my traditional understandings of the policymaking process have already been challenged, complicated, and ultimately, changed. We read John Kingdon’s influential theory that problems, proposals, and political factors converge to open a “policy window” in which interest groups must “couple” their preferred policy with the problem that is being addressed. One element of Kingdon’s argument that came as a surprise to me was that, more often than not, interests create solutions and then attempt to link them a problem. In other words, we create the solutions in search of a problem. This flipped my conventional understanding of the policy making process, that of a process centered on finding solutions to problems that emerge, on its head.

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Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones further complicated my understandings of the policy-making process with their explanation of “punctuated equilibrium.” They contend that the United States’ political system is defined by periods of relative stability, which are punctuated by periods of volatile change. Under this framework, the same factors that open Kingdon’s policy windows can converge to create a system of positive feedback in which dramatic change explosively occurs. Once this window closes, and the positive feedback ends, the new policy forms the foundation of a new period of stability.

The theories advanced by Kingdon, Baumgartner, and Jones differ greatly from the assumptions I have always held about how policy is created. Despite this incongruence with the dominant way of thinking, they make intuitive sense. All in all, I buy their explanations of the policy making process and look forward to applying them to specific cases, such as welfare and the death penalty, next week!

 

Addiction in the Natural World

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If there is one thing the internet loves, it’s animals acting like people. 37 million people have watched this cat being forced to play the keyboard and millions if not billions more videos have been dedicated to anthropomorphizing animals. So by popular demand this is my post today will be about wildlife using recreational drugs just as irrationally as humans.

Animals remain to be a critical tool in the research of addiction. Many experiments deemed too unethical for human studies are often passed off to literal lab rats and even dolphins. In one 1950s experiment, the US government gave a dolphin LSD in an effort to teach it english. That made me wonder if animals had any desire to alter their surroundings outside of forced consumption from humans.

In Indonesia, an orangutan named Tori became hooked on tobacco after zoo-goers started flicking lit cigarettes into her enclosure. In India, elephants have been known to break into liquor stores and  go on drunken rampages causing property damage and in some cases trampling townsfolk to death. Outside of human influence there are also some examples of wildlife altering their state of consciousness. Reindeer, big horn sheep and jaguars are all known to seek out hallucinogenic plants and ingest them for seemingly recreational reasons. This might suggest that seeking a high is just an innate pursuit of life on earth, no different than seeking out food for sustenance or air for oxygen.

This poses the question of why we as a people ingest drugs at all? Before this class I always thought it was just another side effect of the modern human condition. We’ve become so good at not dying that we turn to mind altering substances to give us a high that doesn’t come from a 40-hour work week with a 90-minute commute. We even force our pets to get high. When you think about the concept of catnip, it’s bizarre that we purchase a stimulant for a pet because we’re board of watching them sleep. There seems to be something in us that demands for the outside world to be altered beyond sober parameters. I for one blame Spuds McKenzie and the year of 1987, enjoy.

Economics And Neuroscience Meet In The Economics Of Addiction

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I’m currently the Economics of Addiction, taught by economics professor Aju Fenn and guest professor Angela Scibelli Clute. Aju teaches how the economic theory is affected when addictive substances are factored into models, while Angela focuses on the scientific side of how substances affect the brain neurologically. We spend 3 days of the week learning economics and 2 days learning about the neuroscience. Studying the subjects in tandem reveals the subtle similarities and differences between the subjects. The scheduling also makes for a unique experience for students familiar with the block plan. This is my senior year at CC and it almost feels like I’m back on a semester system taking two different, yet complementary classes. I’m a big proponent of the block plan, but it’s a nice change of pace from the intensity of focusing on a single discipline for four straight weeks block after block.

A lot of assumptions are made about addicts. They live on the fringes of society, they’re mentally ill and they don’t think rationally. As an economist, we often endeavor to prove these assumptions right or wrong based on quantitative evidence. Are there environmental commonalities between addicts that lead them down a road of self-destruction? Or are there complex genetic predispositions in their genome present to blame for their life choices? Can a certain phenotype be factored into an economic model? This is where the economic and biological aspects of the course meet, whether we find some consensus is anybody’s guess. Stay tuned…