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Shared striatal activity in decisions to satisfy curiosity and hunger at the risk of electric shocks


Curiosity is often portrayed as a desirable feature of human faculty. However, curiosity may come at a cost that sometimes puts people in harmful situations. Here, using a set of behavioural and neuroimaging experiments with stimuli that strongly trigger curiosity (for example, magic tricks), we examine the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying the motivational effect of curiosity. We consistently demonstrate that across different samples, people are indeed willing to gamble, subjecting themselves to electric shocks to satisfy their curiosity for trivial knowledge that carries no apparent instrumental value. Also, this influence of curiosity shares common neural mechanisms with that of hunger for food. In particular, we show that acceptance (compared to rejection) of curiosity-driven or incentive-driven gambles is accompanied by enhanced activity in the ventral striatum when curiosity or hunger was elicited, which extends into the dorsal striatum when participants made a decision.

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Fig. 1: Experimental task.
Fig. 2: Behavioural results of motivation-driven decision-making.
Fig. 3: Neural activity in the reward network is modulated by motivation-driven decision-making.
Fig. 4: Mediation path diagram.
Fig. 5: Functional connectivity of the caudate nucleus at the decision phase.

Data availability

The behavioural data that support the findings of the current study are available at The unthresholded statistical maps of the fMRI results can be accessed at

Code availability

The analyses in this study were performed in standard software and based on published routines, as specified in detail in the Methods and the Supplementary Information. Custom codes can be accessed at and are available from the corresponding authors upon request.


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The study was supported by the Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (CIG630680 to K.M.), the JSPS KAKENHI (15H05401, 16H06406, 18H01102 and 18K18696 to K.M.), the F. J. McGuigan Early Career Investigator Prize (to K.M.), the Jacobs Foundation Advanced Fellowship (to K.M.) and the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2016-146 and RL-2016-030 to K.M.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. We are grateful to the magicians (S. Irieda, O. Kohei and Malka) for producing magic tricks for our research. We thank C. Ogulmus, E. Daveau and the rest of the MeMo Lab as well as S. Shen and the CINN for helping with data collection, C. Inaltay, A. Firat, A. Haffey, J. Raw and G. Fastrich for editing and pilot-testing the magic video clips, A. Mihalik for advice on further advanced analysis, and C. McNabb for providing useful comments on the drafts of the article.

Author information




K.M. conceived the idea, and J.K.L.L. and K.M. jointly designed the study. J.K.L.L., H.O., A.K. and K.K. created the experimental materials. J.K.L.L. performed the research and analysed the data. J.K.L.L. and K.M. jointly wrote the paper. All authors provided critical comments.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Johnny King L. Lau or Kou Murayama.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: Marike Schiffer

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Exploratory whole-brain analyses at elicitation phase showed differential brain activations when comparing ‘rejected’ with ‘accepted’ trials.

Activity was stronger within prefrontal cortex and insular gyrus at the elicitation phase of trials in which participants rejected the gamble. For visual illustration here, a voxel-wise threshold of P<0.001 (uncorrected) is applied; all clusters survived a FWE-corrected statistical significance threshold of P<0.05 (at cluster level). L, left; R, right.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Exploratory whole-brain analyses with a main effect of decision (accepted > rejected trials) at decision phase.

Peak activation is shown for the right caudate nucleus (MNI coordinate: 9, 12, 0) and the left caudate nucleus (MNI coordinate: −9, 6, −3) in an extensive medial reward network cluster, extending into the thalamus and the medial frontal cortex, as well as the right frontal cortex and anterior insula. For visual illustration here, a voxel-wise threshold of P < 0.001 (uncorrected) is applied; all clusters survived a FWE-corrected statistical significance threshold of P < 0.05 (at cluster level). See ROI results in Fig. 3. A, anterior; L, left; P, posterior; R, right.

Extended Data Fig. 3 ROI activations for motivation-driven decision-making in a parametric modulation analysis accounting for presented outcome probability.

Differential activations for accepted (> rejected) trials were observed within the ROIs of caudate nucleus, NAcc, and VTA/SN at the Decision phase, even when taking into account the shock/outcome probability presented as an additional parametric modulator in the model. For visual illustration, a voxel-wise threshold of P < 0.001 (uncorrected) is applied here; clusters survived the ROI analysis with an adjusted FWE-corrected statistical significance threshold of P < 0.0167 (at cluster level). A, anterior; L, left; P, posterior; R, right.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1–11, Supplementary References.

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Supplementary Video 1

Magic trick: disappearance of a pack of playing cards in a hollow box.

Supplementary Video 2

Magic trick: popping a cigarette into and through a metal coin.

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Lau, J.K.L., Ozono, H., Kuratomi, K. et al. Shared striatal activity in decisions to satisfy curiosity and hunger at the risk of electric shocks. Nat Hum Behav 4, 531–543 (2020).

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