The Chemistry of Curiosity

Introduction

YouTube Video


Curiosity urges you to explore the unknown, gain information, and delve past boundaries. Many scientists consider curiosity an urge that needs to be satisfied much like hunger, but it is continuously argued whether curiosity is sparked by motivation or a deep drive within the brain. I chose curiosity because we all have that itch in the back of our mind whenever something  entices us, and I wanted to know exactly what was happening in our craniums. No human or animal goes a day without their curiosity being piqued. It’s a natural response that not many slow down to think about, so I decided I would.

Composition of ...

  • Reward Pathway

  • Neurotransmitters

    • Dopamine (C8H11NO2)

    • Serotonin (C10H12N2O)

    • Opioid

    • Cortisol (C21H30O5)

  • Nucleus Accumbens

  • Caudate Nucleus

  • Anterior Cortices

  • Hippocampus

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The Reward Pathway: This pathway is crucial to the understanding of how drugs affect the brain. The mesolimbic dopamine system is the most important reward pathway in the brain. When the brain responds to natural rewards, such as food, sex, or social interactions, an incentive drive is created. Once the pathway is created, the brain tells the individual to repeat what it just did to get that reward. It also tells the memory centers in the brain to pay experience, so it can be repeated in the future. This is a very old pathway from an evolutionary point of view, the concept of dopamine fueling behavioral responses to natural rewards.


Neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout the brain and body. They relay signals between neurons. Dopamine is a special neurotransmitter because it’s considered to be both excitatory and inhibitory. Dopamine is responsible for our drive and motivation. However, constant stimulation can cause a depletion over time. Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it doesn’t stimulate the brain. Adequate amounts are necessary to balance any excessive excitatory neurotransmitter firing in the brain. Overusing stimulants can cause a depletion of serotonin over time.


Chemistry's Role

Reward pathways and neurotransmitters naturally occur in the brain. Reward pathways are created when the body has a dopamine/serotonin releasing experience. Literal pathways are etched into the brain and are reused with every similar reaction. Serotonin and dopamine form with the brain in limited amounts. Dopamine is special because it both stimulates and calms the brain. More often than not, it excites the brain which in return creates a pathway. On the other hand, serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. In some cases, the two can balance each other out so you’re not experiencing a sensory overload. Scientists argue about whether curiosity is an internal drive, or prompted by outside forces. The motivation/drive theory is more widely accepted and supported with more evidence. It describes curiosity as an urge that needs to be satisfied, much like hunger. Studies suggest that when our curiosity is piqued, our brain is prepared to retain information regarding the subject that interested us in the first place, and any incidental material. Curious minds have shown increased activity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for creating memories.


Background Research

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that communicate information throughout the brain and body. Excitatory stimulates the brain, and inhibitory calms the brain.

Curiosity entices you, urges you to further your knowledge. It’s considered a rebellion because you’re pushing the boundaries put in front of you.

New study suggests that when our curiosity is piqued, our brain is ready to learn and retain incidental information. A greater interest in the subject results in a better storage of memory.

Curious minds displayed increased activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in the creation of memories. We have a circuit in our brains that encourages us to get things that are rewarding. It lights up when we get candy, money, and when we’re curious.

Does it come from within us or is it a response to our environment? The drive theory views curiosity as an urge that needs to be satisfied much like hunger.


Resources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity

Curiosity is related to exploration, inquisition, and learning. Curiosity has a heavy influence on human development and animal species.

http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/explore.htm

Curiosity and exploration go hand in hand, and are constantly under research. There is no set in stone explanation, whether it’s drive or motivation, only theories exist.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/curiosity1.htm

Does it come from within us or is it a response to our environment? The drive theory views curiosity as an urge that needs to be satisfied much like hunger.

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/10/24/357811146/curiosity-it-may-have-killed-the-cat-but-it-helps-us-learn

Curious minds displayed increased activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in the creation of memories. We have a circuit in our brains that encourages us to get things that are rewarding. It lights up when we get candy, money, and when we’re curious.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/curiosity-prepares-the-brain-for-better-learning/

New study suggests that when our curiosity is piqued, our brain is ready to learn and retain incidental information. A greater interest in the subject results in a better storage of memory.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMa3qnbVte0

Curiosity entices you, urges you to further your knowledge. It’s considered a rebellion because you’re pushing the boundaries put in front of you.

http://www.neurogistics.com/thescience/whatareneurotransmi09ce.asp

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that communicate information throughout the brain and body. Excitatory stimulates the brain, and inhibitory calms the brain.



About the Author
Katie Dunn is a junior at Billings Senior High School who enjoys learning about biology and chemistry. She plans on attending the University of Washington and majoring in marine biology. Katie is on honor roll, plays the violin in Philharmonic, and is a member of Senior High Interact Club. She is an animal enthusiast, especially cats, and loves writing.
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