Your brain treats the hunger for knowledge the same way as it treats the hunger for food.

We big brain apes are always curious. Why do you want to read this article? Its all because of “curiosity,” and can lead us to amazing intellectual achievement. Albert Einstein once said his only “special talent” was being “passionately curious.” So how does curiosity work? According to research, curiosity works a lot like hunger — your brain treats curiosity for knowledge the same as it does for food.

Related media: Curiosity Is The Key To Knowledge


Are You Curious, Or Hungry?

In a 2018 study, researchers from Japan and the United Kingdom assessed this hypothesis with an experiment that combined magic, food, and gambling. The researchers recruited participants and made them see either a short video of a magic trick or a food commercial. Afterwards, they rated their curiosity on the trick or their desire for the food on a seven-point scale. Later, the researchers asked them if they were enticed enough to gamble for it.

The researchers then presented the participants with a spinning wheel that displayed what they could probably win. This had layouts with participants chances of winning that varied between 17 to 83 percent. Whenever the researchers’ spin the wheel and it landed on a winning spot, the participants could find out whether the trick worked, or that they could eat the food they saw in the commercial; and whenever the wheel landed on losing spot, they were told they’d receive an electric shock (which never happened, but the researcher figured the fear of it was enough).


Curiosity Kills The Hunger

The researchers later found that participants were more likely going to accept the gamble if they were more likely to win, but were also more likely to accept if they had a higher score on their curiosity or hunger. In short, both curiosity and hunger were powerful enough to make the participants take a risk. How similar are curiosity and hunger? It seems they both trigger the same behavior, but not the same root cause.

To analyze the root cause of curiosity, the researchers conducted the whole experiment again, but this time, they had to scanned participants’ brain with a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine. They wanted to find out for sure what happens in the brains of the participants who chose to spin the wheel. Did gambling based on hunger trigger different parts of the brain than gambling based on curiosity? Short answer: No!

It doesn’t matter if participants were seeking food or information, the gambling did lit up their striatum — the area of the brain where incentive salience, or wanting originates. The researchers described this as a hot motivational feeling, and this is what makes us impulsive.


Feed Your Mind As Your Stomach

Finally, the researchers found that the striatum was also active when participants gambled for the answer to a trivia question. What this means is that, the source of that curious feeling isn’t just perceptual curiosity (which made them feel when they saw a visual magic trick), but also epistemic curiosity (which made them feel about more abstract unknowns, like trivia).

At this point, we can safely say that curiosity and hunger are synonymous, and no wonder both originates in the “wanting” area of the brain. This might sound odd at first thought, though, the results are refutable. We desire to know more as much as we want to eat to stay nourished. We’re basically hard-wired to yearn for information as much as food. Now, you’ve learned; therefore you know.


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Apr 04, 2020.

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