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Why are humans so curious?

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Although it’s cats who are supposedly curious, humans are hardwired to be inquisitive and have a thirst for new information which links back to survival for our ancestors.

Asked by: Jacob Pinnock

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To the human brain, new information is like delicious food. A recent study at the University of Reading found that participants’ curiosity to find out how a magic trick worked triggered activity in the same area of their brains as a hunger for food. Those who were most curious were even prepared to risk a (mild) electric shock for the chance to have the magic explained.

Humans, it seems, are hardwired to be curious, and this instinct would have been a potential lifesaver for our ancestors – the person who dared to poke their head around the corner may have found new food or water, or spotted a predator approaching.

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Authors

Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.

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