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Thesis in the Spotlight: Guy Knapp

Publication date

October 26, 2018 8:15 PM


Tess Martin

Guy Knapp is a senior Honors student studying economics and math. With the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Pritchett, Associate Professor in Economics, and Dr. LaPortia Collins, Professor of Practice in Economics, Guy is writing an Honors Thesis researching how Americans’ engagement with the arts may behave like a positive addiction in which the benefit from consuming additional amounts of art (i.e. music, dance, visual art) increases as one consumes more art. While some may think that an economics thesis would revolve around banking, business, or other financial topics, Guy is excited to do a project that will incorporate his interest in the arts into his study of economics. He plans to examine whether or not the arts acts as a positive addiction in American society.

So far, Guy’s primary focus has been reviewing the literature to see how others have approached similar questions, such as scholarship on positive addictions and addictions more generally. He has also based a great deal of his project on his most significant source, Stiegler and Becker’s article “De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum” from 1977, which established the theory that you can explain taste not just as something that people arbitrarily have, but as utility maximization. He has found additional research analyzing this theory as well as research that studies how childhood music and art education impacts future activities, and he hopes his work will combine these theoretical and empirical approaches.

In economics, the concept of positive addiction is that the more one consumes a given commodity, the more benefit one gets from consuming additional units of that commodity. While studies in psychology and other social sciences focus on music and its effect on children in schools, as well as how long children remain involved musically, none have taken his exact economic approach. Furthermore, at this point, he has not found any study that examines how individuals behave in response to other art forms aside from music, such as dance or crocheting. To help him answer these questions, Guy plans on using current population survey data to help him answer his questions. In recent years, these surveys have consistently included a public arts supplemental section, which allow him to collect generally uniform data across several years. This data includes information about when and how long individuals took music lessons or participated in other artistic activities. The general population survey also includes more basic data such as unemployment statistics and income.

Guy plans to analyze this data and determine if arts involvement can predict current art consumption. He is also interested to see what other variables, such as income, location, and level of education, may also affect this consumption. Initially, Guy was going to try to do a different project, in which he would look at how public spending on parks and recreation may affect crime in various areas, but he realized the level of detail that the data would require would have involved Freedom of Information Act requests and ultimately would have been far too difficult to attain. After realizing this, he decided to “go where the data was,” and started looking through the population survey for topics that he found interesting. As a musician and an avid music consumer, Guy was excited to see how much data he found in the public arts supplemental section of the survey.

Though the prospect of an Honors Thesis may be daunting, Guy was intrigued by the possibility “to do a beginning-to-end project like that” with “your own question that you want to answer.” He chose to only write his thesis in economics, not in math, his other major, because he most enjoys the parts of economics where you can use observed consumption data to understand and predict phenomena.

Most of Guy’s work is self-directed, including reading peer-reviewed articles and books, studying the data online, and using statistical analysis computer programs to analyze it. Thesis committee members can vary in how often they expect thesis writers to meet with them, and Guy says that “knowing that [he’ll] have to look readers in the eye when [he] passes them in the hallway” provides significant motivation to work on a regular schedule.

For those hoping to write an Honors Thesis, Guy advises to start thinking about it early to “figure out what interests you.” He was abroad last spring semester, so he was unable to take the Honors Thesis Bootcamp and did not spend much time thinking about his topic. Because of this, he found himself highly focused in mid-August to decide on a topic that would be meaningful to him. Ultimately, “don’t do it just because you think you should,” Guy says to future thesis writers, “the more interested you are in your topic, the easier it is going to be.” Given his love of music, Guy did find that meaningful area of study to pursue, and we look forward to learning more about how early exposure to the arts might impact lifelong artistic engagement.