Here’s something to feed your primal urges: A new study has found that the pursuit of knowledge is as rewarding as eating or drinking–they’re all actions that light up the same happy parts of the brain.
The study centers on a pair of rhesus monkeys trained to look at two alternative targets on a screen, after which an eye-tracking system triggers delivery of a drink. Neither option changed how much water was delivered, but one option gave the monkeys prior information about the size of dose (the probability diagram for this is pictured). After a short interval, the monkeys nearly always chose that option–though it didn’t affect how much water they were getting to slake their thirst, they were keen to get information for information’s sake. A similar test, which changed how quickly the information was delivered before the water arrived resulted in the same thing: The monkeys wanted the information swiftly.
Further experiments on their brains revealed that that the same neurons were signaling the expectation of both water and knowledge, and they were linked to the release of dopamine–a neurotransmitter chemical that’s connected to making you feel rewarded when you achieve a goal.
And that’s incredibly revealing. Because it implies that the primal urge mechanisms that drive us to eat when hungry and drink when thirsty are also directly allied with seeking out new knowledge–it seems we’re actually programmed to gather information. And it also explains why its so satisfying to learn something interestingly new as you cast your eyes about Fast Company–it activates the same reward system in our brains as gobbling down junk food, drinking a Coke. Or having sex. [ed. note: sign up for our newsletters! Follow us on Twitter here!] Though, admittedly, it sounds like you’ll be getting the same dopamine kick via a method that is a lot less fun.
Now…how does that make you feel?