What is it about?

Humans are explorers. We have walked on the moon, illuminated the inkiest depths of the ocean, and uncoiled the mysteries of the genome. Yet we know almost nothing about how our brains inspire curiosity. Neuroscientists have now discovered that the amygdala, a walnut-sized structure deep within the brain and typically viewed as controlling our emotions, plays a key role in deciding whether we should shoot for the moon or stick to the world as we know it.

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Why is it important?

The amygdala and ventral striatum are key components in the neural circuits in our brain that help us to learn from past experiences what in our environment is harmful or rewarding. A different part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is thought to contribute to more complex forms of learning that allow us to consider how the decisions we make in the present influence what we will experience in the future. In fact, a common belief is that the prefrontal cortex is necessary for overriding the activity in motivational brain circuits to get us out of a rut and try new opportunities. While there is evidence for this idea, this new research suggests the emotional parts of your brain aren’t holding you back from learning about how the choices you make today will impact what you will experience tomorrow.

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This page is a summary of: Subcortical Substrates of Explore-Exploit Decisions in Primates, Neuron, June 2019, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.05.017.
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