Wellcome Trust scientists have said that this region located in a primitive area of the brain, is activated when we choose unfamiliar options, suggesting an evolutionary advantage for sampling the unknown. The research highlighted that novelty seeking can be strongly adaptive as unfamiliarity tends to be associated with uncertainty and the potential for valuable outcomes. "It can be advantageous for an animal to explore new parts of its environment because it might find valuable sources of food there," said study author Dr Bianca C Wittmann from University College London.
It may also explain why re-branding of familiar products encourages to pick them off the supermarket shelves. In the study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to investigate the brain activity associated with novelty-related decision making.
"We sought to test a computational hypothesis that brain systems associated with choice behavior use novelty bonuses to encourage exploration of unfamiliar options," explained co-author Dr Nathaniel Daw.
Adult subjects performed a carefully designed choice task during which they had the opportunity to win money by selecting from four simultaneously presented images, some of which they were familiarized with before the study.
Essentially, the task could be used to specifically examine a mechanism of exploration directed at perceptual novelty as the payoff for novel options was no more uncertain or valuable than for familiarized options.
It was found that participants preferred novel stimuli to prefamiliarized stimuli and that choosing novelty was associated with activation of the ventral striatum, a region of the brain associated with reward anticipation.
These results suggest that humans are motivated to use novelty as a substitute for true choice uncertainty, even in instances where the degree of unfamiliarity has no actual bearing on the favourableness of choice outcome.
"The substitution of perceptual novelty for choice uncertainty represents a distinct, albeit slight, departure from rational choice that, as in our task, introduces the danger of being sold old wine in a new skin," said Wittmann.