Curiosity is the motivation to explore and investigate the unknown and make new discoveries. It is as essential and intrinsic to survival as hunger. Until recently, the brain mechanisms underlying curiosity and novelty-seeking behavior were unclear. However, researchers at the Dutch Institute of Neuroscience have now discovered a new brain circuit that underlies curiosity and novelty-seeking behavior. The results were published in the scientific journal Science.
Curiosity, hunger, and appetitive aggressiveness lead to three different goal-oriented behaviors: novelty-seeking, eating, and hunting. In animals, these behaviors are composed of similar actions. This similarity of actions made it difficult to study novelty research in inarticulate animals and to distinguish it from feeding and hunting.
“Despite well-developed techniques to study mouse brain circuitry, there are many controversial and different findings in the field of motivational behavior. Therefore, we chose a simple solution to conduct our research: give the mouse the freedom to choose what it wants. Says Alexander Heimel, group leader at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. By examining mice in an experimental battery of new and familiar objects and social interactions, scientists have discovered a brain circuit specific to the cell type of curiosity and novelty-seeking behavior.
Researcher Mehran Ahmadlou explains: “By increasing brain activity in a specific brain region, Zona Incerta, interaction with congeners and new objects with respect to familiar objects and food has increased. When we inactivated the cells in this region, the depth and duration of the investigation decreased. In addition, the researchers found that specific neurons were more active during a deep investigation than during a shallow investigation.
Using several innovative techniques, a whole path of multiple brain regions has been discovered that converts curiosity into action in mice. Heimel: “This is the first time that this path is described. Now we can begin to understand, for example, how curiosity sometimes trumps the urge for security, and why some people are more curious than others. There are still many we’re curious about. “
How curiosity leads to research behavior in humans is still unknown. Another recent study shows that Zona Incerta also plays a role in the curiosity of monkeys. Heimel: “We still know little about this area in humans because it is located deep in the brain and it is difficult to measure activity with brain scans.” The development of new techniques may lead to more clarity in the future.
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Material provided by Dutch Institute for Neuroscience – KNAW. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.