Why curiosity can be both painful and pleasurable

2 faces of curiosity

“… a chief motivation for exploration is curiosity, … [but] very little research had been done on curiosity on the neuroscientific side, in spite of its enormous importance.” One set of discoveries were generally consistent with curiosity being fundamentally a disagreeable state, while others were consistent with curiosity being primarily a pleasurable condition.

SOURCE: Nautilus


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Scientists may have identified two types of curiosity

“… a chief motivation for exploration is curiosity, … [but] very little research had been done on curiosity on the neuroscientific side, in spite of its enormous importance.”

While fMRI can indeed map the regions of the brain that are active when at least some form of epistemic curiosity is induced, those very same regions are also activated in a variety of other brain functions. One set of discoveries were generally consistent with curiosity being fundamentally a disagreeable state, while others were consistent with curiosity being primarily a pleasurable condition.

On the face of it the two sets of studies seem to imply that different facets or mechanisms of curiosity may involve separate regions of the brain and may manifest themselves as distinct psychological states. It could be that different types of curiosity involve some common brain core but may also activate somewhat separate circuits and chemicals, even though all of the brain operations have a certain degree of functional connectivity.

This emerging picture is also consistent with the hypothesis by cognitive scientists … that “Rather than using a single optimisation process … curiosity is comprised of a family of mechanisms that include simple heuristics related to novelty/surprise and measures of learning progress over longer time scales.” This does not necessarily mean that different varieties of curiosity employ entirely separate sections of the brain.

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