Can you spot the eureka moment in a brain scanner?

19 April 2009

Question

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

Answer

Helen - I don't 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 - That's true but actually it has been done. It turns out it's 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 they'd get some money and this is a rewarding result. When people get that reward they get a little surge in dopamine which is the brain's pleasure chemical. There's a part of the brain that's 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, 'I've cracked it,' is all down to this chemical dopamine. Amazing, isn't it?

Dave - So you've got a reward for understanding things.

Chris - Exactly so that's why we learn.

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