Curiosity is brain rewarding – is it good for you?

Over at livescience they have a post discussing the brain science of curiosity. It is argued that curiosity can be good and bad for us. Our brain is driven to solve the curiosity problem – what is in that wrapped present underneath the Christmas tree, what will be the stock price of apple next year, what would reduce cancer?

One theory is that we have a drive for new knowledge and it is related to how we need to know about the environment we live in.

The idea of curiosity as an itch harkens back to research done in the 1960s and earlier. At that time, scientists saw curiosity as a drive that forces animals to reduce uncertainty about their environment. The theory explained why animals like to explore new objects, but it left out the question of why animals and humans go out of their way to look for new things that can titillate their minds. After all, if the goal is to find information to reduce curiosity, why would anyone raise their curiosity levels in the first place by starting a puzzle or reading a murder mystery?

But there can be a dark side to curiosity, which is explored in the above mentioned blog piece.

“One of the greatest ways to seriously piss someone off is to throw out some trivia question at them and just don’t tell them the answer,” Paul Silvia, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, told LiveScience. “It will seriously drive them insane.”

This could be an example of obessive curiosity that has no real use. But we also seek out information that seems to be harmful to us all based on our curiosity.

“Humans will go out of their way to see something awful that will give them nightmares,” Litman said. He suspects that the drive to get knowledge about what the pictures contains outweighs the desire to avoid becoming upset.

But there is a reason behind this curiosity and this is driven at a evolutionary level.

“It’s a more complex model, because it forces you to understand that the brain is oriented to make sense of the world even if the result is unenjoyable,” Litman said. The next step, he said, is to find out whether it’s more rewarding to resolve the happy interest-type curiosity or the tense deprivation-type.

Overall, I believe curiosity is good for us, it engages our brain and keeps it active and we all know that is good for your brain health.

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