When Thomas Edison was a schoolboy, his mother bought him his first scientific book, The School of Natural Philosophy, which unleashed his inner explorer. Soon, boy established his own laboratory at home which caused lots of disasters and constantly shook the building as a result of explosions. He even burned his father’s hand just to “see what would happen next”. After learning more about the life of this great person, it is feasible to assume that along with perseverance and high tolerance to failures, Edison possessed extraordinary curiosity that made it possible to repeat experiments again and again, trying something new until the result was satisfying.
Curiosity is a striking power to achieve the desired result. While it could lead to misfortunes, like in the myth about Eurydice (her husband lost her forever because of succumbing to the wish of taking a glance at the subterranean world) or bring success as in Edison’s example, curiosity still has such potent influence on us. What is the reason for that?
The answer is derived from the depths of our mind.
In couple of researches published in bioRvix named “Hunger for Knowledge: How the Irresistible Lure of Curiosity is Generated in the Brain?” Johnny King Lau and his counterparts demonstrated that curiosity is based on the same neurobiological process as physical hunger.
The researches were conducted on the basis of an experiment: The hungry participants were shown tricks or images of delicious meals after which they were offered to play lottery. If they won, at the end of the experiment they would have a chance to discover the secret of trick or eat those meals. But on the occasion of failure, they would have to undergo weak albeit unpleasant electric shock. Participants estimated their curiosity regarding trick or hunger and made a decision whether to play or not.
The conclusion was that participants likely decided under the impact of hunger or curiosity.
They chose to play lottery when they were hungry or eager to find out how trick had been performed notwithstanding the danger of electric shock.
It led to the assumption that curiosity aroused desire or attraction similar to hunger. Scientists verified it by arranging the second experiment- this time scanning the brain of participants. When people opted for playing lottery, no matter of which incentive, the huge activity was tracked in the part of the brain called striatum which is in charge of motivation and reward. The outcome was the same even when the disclosure of tricks was changed with intriguing questions such as “The only meal which cannot get spoiled?”.
Curiosity triggers the process of making decisions in the exact way as motivation and external gratification.
Even though the research is incomplete, it still provides useful data for further studies of brain activity and how it affects our life.