According to new research, our brains feast on information the same way it does snack food or drugs. The contact high is the most important part, even if the data is completely useless.
To those who rely on their high from drugs, alcohol or caffeine, I scoff in your general direction. All the cool kids in current year are getting their kids from information. D’ya get the memo, dingus?
According to new research, our minds snack on information much in the same way we eat. Which is to say that we might not be hugely hungry, yet we find ourselves at the snack cupboard. Our brain does the same for information. A decent example would be the habitual checking of our phone, or blithely scrolling YouTube with no-one to go.
“To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful,” says neuroeconomist Ming Hsu, from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
“And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful – what some may call idle curiosity.”
Alongside his excellently named neuroscientist pal, Kenji Kobayashi, Hsu pushed 37 brave souls into a gambling game and measured fMRI scans of their brains. The aim of the game was to decide how much to pay to discover the odds of a series of lotteries. Simply put, the subjects were asked to place a dollar value on information, and through that, how the brain values it.
The study illustrated that information can be a reward in itself, even if we’re not going to get any other tangible benefit.
“Our study tried to answer two questions,” says Hsu. “First, can we reconcile the economic and psychological views of curiosity, or why do people seek information? Second, what does curiosity look like inside the brain?”
The psychological take on curiosity is that it is a motivation in itself. In this study, the brain scans did show the flow of curious information. Per the study, “…the fMRI data indicated that getting information on a lottery’s odds showed increased activation in parts of the brain known to be involved in valuation – the striatum and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC).”
The research also ties into other studies that illustrated that information can be a reward in itself, even if we’re not going to get any other tangible benefit from it.