Brian Sullivan

Dan Vergano
Your brain, it turns out, is deep-wired for enjoyment of unexpected rewards, finds a new study. Led by neuroscientist Kareem Zaghloul of the University of Pennsylvania, the study suggests that if you want a lesson to stick, an unexpected reward is what the brain is craving.

"The brain's sensitivity to unexpected outcomes plays a fundamental role in an organism's ability to adapt and learn new behaviors," write the study authors in the March 13 Science journal.

Monkey studies suggest these "unexpected outcomes" give a jolt to a particular part of the brain called the substantia nigra, twin darkly-colored bands of tissue that play a role in learning, addiction and voluntary motion. The dark color comes from being packed with "dopaminergic" brain cells, or neurons, sensitive to the brain chemical dopamine.

"The response of these neurons to rewards has not been directly measured in humans," write the study authors, doubtless due the difficulty in convincing volunteers (and hospital review boards) to have their brains wired open for science.

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