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Technology and Health News > Friday, June-27-2008

In the brain of Indiana Jones

The ventral striatum, a part of the brain already known to be associated with rewards and unexpected stimuli, is the center of our desire for adventure. The research in Neuron.

A group of researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University College of London has identified the area of the brain directly linked to our desire for adventure. Or, more precisely, our propensity to live new experiences and to experience what we do not know.

For the study, published in Neuron, researchers have developed a test: the participants were presented a series of images associated with different sums of money put into a premium, and were asked to guess which of the sums was higher. Although the volunteers easily could identify the image associated with richer rewards, when it was introduced a new figure, all of them tended to choose the latter rather than those already known with secure profits. Through magnetic resonance imaging, neuroscientists have noticed that the area of the ventral Striatum (an area of the brain already known to be associated to receive a reward and unexpected stimuli) was particularly active when participants opted for the novelty.

"The research is a new trend behaviour of primary importance in all animals" commented White Wittmann, head of research: "It is logical to continue to bring new options if they benefit us over time. So if a monkey wants an alternative to the usual diet, often travels to places unknown in the forest to try new foods. If the choice is advantageous, the behaviour is repeated.". The function of the ventral Striatum could have been maintained during the evolution process despite the risks to which this behavior exposes the indivdual, because of the advantages it brings.

"Our propensity towards what is new has certainly not escaped the industries that often, renewed packs of old products is one example", continues Wittmann: "I could buy my favourite chocolate, but if I see another in a new pack, printed the label 'New taste', my sense for the novelty would almost certainly lead me to try it. "

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