Microeconomics and the brain

A pretty cool story on the diminishing marginal utility theory.

The microeconomic law of diminishing marginal utility states that while accumulating a good—pretzels, pencils, nickels, whatever—each successive unit of that good will be less satisfying to acquire than the one before it. Finding a shiny quarter on the street is a real thrill. But, if you are carrying around a bag of coins, acquiring another one does not seem nearly as exciting. In fact, would you even bother to pick it up?

That hesitation is what researchers at the University of Cambridge in England were banking on when they designed a study to see if the haves catch on more slowly than the have-nots when it comes to reward-based learning. Reporting in the current issue of Neuron, the scientists reveal that when a small sum of money is on the line, poorer people learn quickly how to maximize their profits, leaving their wealthier counterparts in the dust.

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Science stuff

One interesting news item came up the other day:

A study about seasonal changes and learning done right here at Ohio State, by a student down the hall (figuratively), Leah Pyter. She showed that during winter, hamsters have smaller hippocampi (kind of like RAM for your brain instead of your computer).

Other science news: At Salon they talk about hacking the neural code. If I only knew what he was talking about.

Alzheimer’s begins with attention lapses. This news excites me.

One good way to fend of meat-born diseases, and Alzheimer’s Dementia, is to eat curry. In India rates of Alzheimer’s are much lower, and in Professor Gary Wenk, a new addition to Ohio State (brought in to replace someone else), has shown that a chemical in curry powder prevents inflammation in the brain, inflammation which is said to lead to neuronal degeneration. Huzzah for curry!

One more. There is a new scanning technique that can find beta-amyloid plaques, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Right now we have to wait for an autopsy to confirm if someone has Alzheimer’s. This scan might help predict who will get Alzheimer’s so we can treat it earlier.