Neural mechanisms underlying the induction and relief of perceptual curiosity

Marieke Jepma*, Rinus G. Verdonschot, Henk van Steenbergen, Serge A R B Rombouts, Sander Nieuwenhuis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)


Curiosity is one of the most basic biological drives in both animals and humans, and has been identified as a key motive for learning and discovery. Despite the importance of curiosity and related behaviors, the topic has been largely neglected in human neuroscience; hence little is known about the neurobiological mechanisms underlying curiosity. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate what happens in our brain during the induction and subsequent relief of perceptual curiosity. Our core findings were that (i) the induction of perceptual curiosity, through the presentation of ambiguous visual input, activated the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex, brain regions sensitive to conflict and arousal; (ii) the relief of perceptual curiosity, through visual disambiguation, activated regions of the striatum that have been related to reward processing; and (iii) the relief of perceptual curiosity was associated with hippocampal activation and enhanced incidental memory. These findings provide the first demonstration of the neural basis of human perceptual curiosity. Our results provide neurobiological support for a classic psychological theory of curiosity, which holds that curiosity is an aversive condition of increased arousal whose termination is rewarding and facilitates memory.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue numberJANUARY 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Arousal
  • Curiosity
  • fMRI
  • Memory
  • Reward processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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