Hands of magician doing tricks with a deck of cards.

People who watched a card trick risked physical discomfort to find out how the trick was done. Credit: Getty

Neuroscience

Humans opt to brave electric shock to satisfy their curiosity

Study participants accept a risk of a sharp jolt as the price of learning unimportant information.

Human curiosity, even about trivial matters, can be so strong that people are willing to risk uncomfortable electric shocks in order to satisfy their inquisitiveness.

Johnny King Lau and Kou Murayama at the University of Reading, UK, and their colleagues asked volunteers to view videos of magic tricks. The volunteers were then offered the chance to see how the trick was performed — but before they could learn the secret, they viewed a spinning wheel that gave them their odds of learning the solution versus their odds of receiving an electrical shock. Volunteers then had to decide on whether it was worth taking the gamble to satisfy their curiosity.

Even when their chance of getting a shock was 50% or higher, some volunteers took the risk. Scans of the volunteers’ brains showed that anticipation of having their curiosity satisfied activates neural pathways similar to those involved in expecting a reward, which the researchers say could partially explain why curiosity affects decision-making.