Humans crave novel experiences, says study


Washington : Unfamiliar options, or experiencing the unknown, activate a primitive part of the brain, which shows that human beings seek novel experiences, according to a new study.

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Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanners, researchers at the University College London showed that when participants in the study selected an unfamiliar option, an area of the brain known as the ventral striatum lit up, indicating it was more active.

“Seeking new and unfamiliar experiences is a fundamental behavioural tendency in humans and animals,” said Biance Wittmann, who led the experiment.

“It makes sense to try new options as they may prove advantageous in the long run,” she added.

For example, a monkey that deviates from its diet of bananas, even if this involves a change of location and eating a new type of food, may find its diet enriched and more nutritious.

The study found that when a particular choice or action turns out to be beneficial, it was rewarded by a release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

These rewards help us learn which behaviours are preferable and advantageous and worth repeating. The ventral striatum is one of the key areas involved in processing rewards in the brain, reported EurekAlert.

Although the researchers cannot say definitively from the fMRI scans how novelty-seeking is being rewarded, Wittmann said it is likely to be through dopamine release.

“I might have my own favourite choice of chocolate bar, but if I see a different bar repackaged, advertising its ‘new, improved flavour’, my search for novel experiences may encourage me to move away from my usual choice,” said Wittmann.

“This introduces the danger of being sold ‘old wine in a new skin’ and is something that marketing departments take advantage of.”