Everyone has experienced curiosity and everyone has surely experienced hunger. What few people would expect is that these two feelings are related. Indeed, the brain seems to treat curiosity similar to how it treats hunger for food. Scientists go as far to refer to curiosity as “hunger for knowledge.”
How Was This Discovered?
The researchers made this discovery by conducting an experiment which mixed food, gambling, and magic. Participants witnessed either a brief video of a magic trick, or a photo of food. After rating their craving for the food, or their curiosity about the magic trick, the participants were asked whether they were interested enough to gamble for it.
Before they answered, however, they were able to see a wheel in the style of the “Wheel of Fortune” which depicted their likelihood of winning. The participants were told that if the wheel landed on a winning spin, they would be able to consume the food they were shown, or be informed on how the magic trick worked. Meanwhile, they were told that if the wheel landed on a losing section, they would be shocked with electricity (they actually were not, because the mere threat was assumed to be sufficient for the sake of the experiment).
What Were The Results?
The scientists discovered that people were not only more inclined to accept the lottery if they had a higher chance of winning, but were also more inclined to accept the lottery if they reported a higher level of hunger or curiosity.
Hunger and curiosity both had enough power to motivate people to decide willingly to risk pain.
Hunger for Knowledge versus Hunger for Food
However, the scientists acknowledged that while hunger and curiosity may both motivate risk-taking behavior, that does not necessarily inicate that they share the same root cause. To determine the similarity between hunger and curiosity, they conducted brain scans on the participants.
The researchers discovered that the activation of brain regions did not differ between hunger and curiosity. In both cases, the striatum was lit up. The striatum is the origin of “incentive salience” (more commonly known as desire). According to the researchers, both hunger and curiosity trigger a “hot” motivational feeling which makes people impulsive. This discovery confirms that people are wired to crave information, just as they are wired to crave food.