Science Questions

Can you spot the eureka moment in a brain scanner?

Sun, 19th Apr 2009

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Science Copperfield asked:

Has anyone done an experiment to see what happens when someone has that ah-ha, light bulb moment when they discover something?


Helen - I donít know

Dave - I guess it would be very hard to have someone in the brain scanner at the point when they have the ah-ha moment.

Chris - Thatís true but actually it has been done.  It turns out itís all down to the nerve transmitter chemical, dopamine.  What people do, in fact.  The first evidence for this people were asking people in the brain scanner to play a computer game where they had to shoot tanks.  Every time someone shot a tank theyíd get some money and this is a rewarding result.  When people get that reward they get a little surge in dopamine which is the brainís pleasure chemical.  Thereís a part of the brain thatís tuned up to make you experience pleasure.  When something good happens this goes off like a machine gun and it releases this squirt of dopamine that makes you feel good.  When you have that ah-ha moment part of the pleasure of thinking, ĎIíve cracked it,í is all down to this chemical dopamine.  Amazing, isnít it?

Dave - So youíve got a reward for understanding things.

Chris - Exactly so thatís why we learn.


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