Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Cognitive Neuroscience of Addiction

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Physiology and Biochemistry

DESCRIPTION This study unit explores the brain systems that give rise to cognition and hence behaviour both in a normal context and that associated with addiction. In the main, the brain area’s and the links between them that form a complex interacting system that give rise to our cognition such as that of attention and planning, working memory and decision making, are to say the least, important aspects of every day function. An understanding of the major brain areas and their associative connections that substantiate certain aspects of our cognitive abilities is essential if one it is to grapple with what aspects of cognition do become altered in addiction. To date the evidence for brain lesions in such individuals with a substance use disorder are not apparent but with the latest functional imaging studies it would appear that certain aspects of the building blocks that make up the relevant circuits do indeed appear to have been altered as a result of heavy frequent use. An insight into which particular building blocks these are and the neuronal systems that are affected as result of such alterations provides the opportunity for a better overall understanding of the condition , namely that of addiction.

Study-unit Aims:

The study-unit will attempt firstly to put the brain at the forefront of the students thinking on the theme of addiction. It will facilitate students’ understanding of how physical changes that take place in particular parts of neuronal brain circuitry do indeed account for the aberrant cognitive processes that lead to poor decisions, such as, the acceptance of a small immediate reward rather than a larger reward later on. The unit will help students explore how the changes that takes place in neuronal circuits may again be altered by some form of intervention, be it pharmacological or psychological. The study units will examine in detail the concept of plasticity of the brain. Finally, an appreciation of brain function and the complexities related to the problem of addiction will be developed amongst those participating in this study-unit.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Describe the brain and its organization;
- Ascribe the different neuronal circuits that give rise to cognition and behavior;
- Identify those neuronal circuits that mat be compromised in addiction;
- Synthesise the crucial elements that may form part of a cognitive neuroscience description of addiction;
- Consolidate such an understanding that may provide further insight for the conduct of a thesis required by the study programme on offer and in policy and practice.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Be conversant with the nomenclature related to cognitive neuroscience;
- Evaluate and decipher the research evidence in question;
- Apply the knowledge base in cognitive neuroscience of addiction in policy and practice.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts

- Wilson, S. (eds) (2015 The Wiley Handbook on the Cognitive Neuroscience of Addiction. CA: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Examination (3 Hours) SEM2 Yes 100%

Richard Muscat
Kristina Vella
Christian Zammit

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The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.