You've heard about the dangers of sugar. You are, no doubt, already deeply familiar with the risks that come with smoking and nicotine. But here's something new to watch out for: an addiction to information. 

Knowledge is power and learning is critical for growth. But how much information is too much?

According to a new study by researchers at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, information acquisition shares the very same dopamine-producing reward system pathway as drugs, food, and financial rewards. To put it simply, obtaining new information may be extremely addictive.

Explains neuroeconomist and associate professor, Ming Hsu:

To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it's useful. And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful--what some may call idle curiosity."

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the paper, "Common neural code for reward and information value," takes a look at curiosity and its relationship to the brain. The paper reveals how information is consumed, and how it is converted into the same "common scale" as money.

According to researchers, the motives people have for seeking information can be both economic and psychological. Information is acquired, "Not only on its actual benefit, but also on the anticipation of its benefit, whether or not it had use."

In other words, says Hsu:

Just as we can convert such disparate things as a painting, a steak dinner, and a vacation into a dollar value, the brain converts curiosity about information into the same common code it uses for money and other concrete rewards.

One necessary condition for the cycle of addiction involves an interaction with the brain's reward system. As this study reveals, information engages with this system. This gives us some insight into why we are unable to resist online clickbait titles and alerts.

The next time you find yourself jumping to your phone, anticipating a pleasurable reward like a mobile notification, know that information can be like money, drugs, or snacks to your brain.

Are you an addict?

Published on: Dec 2, 2019
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