Scientists Figured Out Why the Curiosity ‘Kills’ the Cat?

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( — October 6, 2014)  — Participants in a study were asked to rate trivia questions based on how curious they were to know the answers. The questions covered a variety of topics, including science, TV shows and politics. During the experiment, each individual was brain-scanned to record changes of neural activities when the questions appeared on the screen. For example, “Who was the president of the US when Uncle Sam first got a beard?”

Before the answer, there was an anticipation period of 14 seconds. While the subject waited for the answer, a photo of an unrelated face popped up.

Researchers wanted to see whether being in a state of curiosity could help participants remember any material and spark the solution.

“Faces that were presented during a highly curious state — those faces were remembered better,” said study author and neuroscientist Charan Ranganath at UC-Davis.

“That was really the most surprising part.” he said.

During states of high curiosity, the researchers noticed a correlation between neural activity and the release of neurotransmitter dopamine.

“Curiosity is sort of like a cognitive reward, and these results seem to suggest that cognitive reward also activates dopamine,” said Jackueline Gottlieb, Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Columbia University.

“Curiosity is sort of a mysterious thing for us neuroscientists, and there haven’t been many studies on it,” said Gottlieb, criticizing the results of the ­face-recognition test, as a weaker aspect of the study. She speculates that results could be explained, not by a curious state of mind, but some other processes that wasn’t ruled out.

“I’m directing my attention to the center of the screen to see the answer, and then I see the face,” she said. “Even though the face is irrelevant, it appears in the focus of attention.”

However, these new findings represent a first step in better understanding a complex relationship of many disorders, such as drug addiction, Parkinson’s disease, depression and schizophrenia, which affect both memory and the reward circuit.

Ranganath’s  future work will involve using electrical stimulation in the key brain regions to see whether it is possible to artificially create a curious state of mind.

“It might be possible to improve memory of patients with these conditions, through the development of medications or behavioral therapies to stimulate motivation and curiosity,” he said.