By Rachel Franklin
Thanks for the crac-I mean cake!
High Price is the most recent book from Carl Hart about the underlying causes of drug addiction. The text, which is written as a combination of personal memoir and scientific review, uses the author’s research to back the idea that the physiological basis of drug addiction isn’t so much to blame as the sociological conditions in which abusers find themselves. Dr.Hart is a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University, who, having seen the first-hand effects of crack-cocaine addiction in the lives of those around him throughout his childhood in Miami, dedicated his career to attempting to elicit the underlying causes of what he observed. What he found surprised even him.
Dr. Hart began as an undergraduate, doing research on rats self-administration of cocaine. Initially, he saw the rats dose themselves to death, unable to resist the drug’s allure. What he noticed, however, was that when rats had an ‘enriched’ environment, they were able to ignore the drug for other rich stimuli, namely the presence of a fellow rodent to play with, a wheel to run on, or tasty treats to snack on. He then applied this line of thought to human subjects. In Dr. Hart’s experiment, crack-cocaine users, who were not seeking rehabilitation, were recruited to live in a hospital setting where every day they were given a sample of the drug (the dose of which was varied day-to-day and unknown to the subjects), followed by the choice of a monetary reward (which they would collect at the end of the study) or the option to continue smoking crack. Contrary to the societal belief that in their desire for the drug, crack addicts are beyond rational thought, the subjects made predictable and logical decisions in their daily choice. When the initial dose was fairly small, the monetary reward was reliably chosen over continuing to use the drug. What Dr. Hart concluded from these results was that addicts, in the right setting, can weigh the prospect of using the drug equally with gaining benefits that are only rewarded further in the future. What he drew from that idea was that perhaps the evidence we see of drug addiction in our culture is more heavily influenced by the situations surrounding those people rather than the actual physiological basis itself.
On January 17th, the talented Lazaro Arbos, a 21-year-old from Florida, went viral on Youtube for his amazing performance during his American Idol audition. The most impressive part of his beautiful voice? The fact that it was stutter-free.
During normal speech, Arbos involuntarily makes long pauses and extended vowels, using his hands to trace the words he is trying to convey. However, as soon as he starts to sing, the difficulty disappears. His new Twitter fans are calling it a divine miracle, but the phenomenon is well-known to many stutter sufferers – industry legend has it that B.B.King and Carly Simon were among them!
What’s going on here? The disorder is highly varied in its presentation and severity, so science is far from a consensus about the etiology, though there have been some compelling findings. One 2003 study by Van Borsel et al. at the Ghent University Hospital in Belgium showed a marked increase in activation of the right hemisphere during speech in fMRI studies of patients with the speech disorder; more so than in normal speakers, leading to the idea that perhaps this over-activation is interfering with the fluent production of speech on the left. Specifically, a study of stutterers in Frankfurt, Germany found that activity in the right frontal operculum was negatively correlated with the severity of stuttering symptoms in patients, suggesting a compensational role. This area has been associated with timing tasks in speech in healthy controls, adding further possible significance to the specific dysfunction in verbal timing seen in stutterers.