Brain area making us feel 'adventurous' found

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Washington, Jun 26 (UNI) Scientists have discovered a key region in the primitive area of the brain, which encourages us to be adventurous.

According to the researchers, the region is activated when we choose unfamiliar options, suggesting an evolutionary advantage for sampling the unknown. It may also explain why re-branding of familiar products encourages to pick them off the supermarket shelves, they said.

The study, published online in the journal Neuron, found that given a choice, volunteers were more likely to take a chance and select one of the unfamiliar options than continue with their familiar and arguably safer option.

While selecting an unfamiliar option, an area of the brain known as the ventral striatum lit up, indicating that it was more active, it said.

''Seeking new and unfamiliar experiences is a fundamental behavioural tendency in humans and animals,'' said Dr Wittmann of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University College London (UCL).

''It makes sense to try new options as they may prove advantageous in the long run. For example, a monkey who chooses to deviate from its diet of bananas, even if this involves moving to an unfamiliar part of the forest and eating a new type of food, may find its diet enriched and more nutritious,'' Dr Wittmann told the Science Daily.

When we make a particular choice or carry out a particular action which turns out to be beneficial, it is rewarded by a release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, the study said.

These rewards help us learn which behaviours are preferable and advantageous and worth repeating. The ventral striatum is one of the key areas involved in processing rewards in the brain, it added.

''I might have my own favourite choice of chocolate bar, but if I see a different bar repackaged, advertising its 'new, improved flavour', my search for novel experiences may encourage me to move away from my usual choice,'' said Dr Wittmann.

''This introduces the danger of being sold 'old wine in a new skin' and is something that marketing departments take advantage of,'' she added.

Rewarding the brain for novel choices could have a more serious side effect, argued Professor Nathaniel Daw, now at New York University, who also worked on the study.

''The novelty bonus may be useful in helping us make complex, uncertain decisions, but it clearly has a downside. In humans, increased novelty-seeking may play a role in gambling and drug addiction, both of which are mediated by malfunctions in dopamine release,'' he added.

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