New research from PNAS has shown that the brain enjoys new information as much as it enjoys receiving an amount of money. In addition, the same area of the brain is activated as when a person earns money, with the same dopamine hit. “For the brain, information is its own reward, regardless of whether it is useful. Just as our brain likes the empty calories of junk food, it can also overestimate information that makes us feel good, even if it is unusable. It is what is known as idle curiosity,“ says Ming Hsu, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
This research provides a hint at why social media addiction is so prevalent these days: our brains are always on the look for new information. It’s easy to see why we may be wired this way, being that in ancient times any piece of information received may have been of use, similar to how we needed every piece of food and sugar we could get. Now, however, we suffer from the disease of abundance. When surfing online or watching TV, it’s an assault to our senses as we are bombarded with information. The way in which our brains respond to the anticipation of a pleasant reward seems an important reason why people click on an image or a news item or throw their ear to gossip, no matter how childish its content is. “Like junk food, this could be a situation where adaptation mechanisms are exploited now that we have unprecedented access to novel curiosities,” Hsu said.
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