Brain scientists discover why adventure feels good

Skydiver Magnus Svensson of Sweden leaps from the 73rd floor of the world's tallest building, the Petronas Twin Towers during the Malaysia International Extreme Skydiving Championship in Kuala Lumpur in this August 29, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists have identified a primitive area of the brain that makes us adventurous -- a finding which may help explain why people routinely fall for “new” products when shopping.

Using brain scans to measure blood flow, British researchers discovered that a brain region known as the ventral striatum was more active when subjects chose unusual objects in controlled tests.

The ventral striatum is involved in processing rewards in the brain through the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Scientists believe the existence of this age-old reward mechanism indicates there is an evolutionary advantage in sampling the unknown.

“Seeking new and unfamiliar experiences is a fundamental behavioral tendency in humans and animals. It makes sense to try new options as they may prove advantageous in the long run,” said Bianca Wittmann of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London.

Being daring, however, also carries risks. Some choices could be dangerous and, in the modern world, selecting the new may, for instance, make consumers susceptible to marketing hype.

The positive feedback system in the brain could also contribute to some common vices.

“In humans, increased novelty-seeking may play a role in gambling and drug addiction, both of which are mediated by malfunctions in dopamine release,” said Nathaniel Daw, now at New York University, who also worked on the study.

The findings were published online in the journal Neuron.