From mid-July to mid-October, I became addicted—to the Presidential election. By October 20, I was looking at the FiveThirtyEight blog at least four times a day, and was constantly checking Google News and other websites. This was a classic addiction—after three or four searches each time, I stopped because my marginal utility was diminishing. But after another hour without my “fix,” I had to search again and got tremendous pleasure from that first search. The addiction was interfering with my work.
The theory of rational addiction suggested a solution—go cold turkey. So I vowed not to look at the FiveThirtyEight blog—and I’ve now been “clean” for 6 days. To mitigate my withdrawal symptoms, watching the NLCS and the World Series has served as my methadone. Watching baseball for me has the virtue that it’s self-contained—I’ve not developed any addiction and only watch the games. And if I can stay clean through Nov. 6, my problem will be solved!
A new study by addiction and neuroscience researchers sheds new light on understanding how cocaine addicts make decisions, and how they value the drug against the immediate and delayed reward of other items, such as cash. The upshot is that addicts discount cocaine at a steeper rate than they do money, consistently choosing to have money now, rather than twice the value of cocaine later. Here’s how the experiment worked:
Forty-seven cocaine addicts (who were all seeking treatment) were asked to guess the number of grams of cocaine worth $1,000. They were each then given a series of choices: cocaine now versus more cocaine later; money now versus more money later; cocaine now versus money later; or money now versus cocaine later. The initial amount offered for the immediate choice has half of the full value, and the delayed amount was always the full value. Preference was almost exclusively given to the money now option, according to the study’s lead researcher, Warren K. Bickel, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, and director of the Advanced Recovery Research Center there.
A visit with two grandchildren this weekend, then the other four next weekend, then the eight and five-year old without their parents. What a delight! But no very little kids—the kids are now ages 15 to 5. I miss having tiny grandchildren, and I know that if another were to come along it would be as much or even more fun than the first. I guess I’m addicted to grandchildren. Sadly in some sense (although my sons’ and their wives’ lives are complicated enough without their having more kids), my addiction is being cured by an enforced “cold-turkey” regimen—no more grandchildren are likely to be forthcoming. That’s the best way to cure an addiction. With the average age at first marriage being 28 for men and 26 for women, odds are that it will be 15 years until great-grandchildren arrive. The life expectancy of a 68-year-old male is 15 years, so there’s a decent hope of rekindling my addiction—next time to great-grandchildren.
When I asked my students for examples of diminishing marginal utility, one wiseguy freshman stated, “Time with my girlfriends after a relationship of five months-I drop them after that.” (I should have told him that it’s hard to distinguish quits from layoffs, but I wasn’t fast enough on my feet!)
When it comes to Harry Potter, I was a late adopter. For years, I chuckled at the avid readers who camped out at book stores the night before the latest book’s release. My wife is hard to buy for, so when she mentioned half-heartedly that she should read Harry Potter because all of her friends were fans, I bought her . . .