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Monkeys Want More Information

(p. 13) In his book "The Compass of Pleasure," the Johns Hopkins neurobiologist David J. Linden explicates the workings of these regions, known collectively as the reward system, elegantly drawing on sources ranging from personal experience to studies of brain activity to experiments with molecules and genes. . . ,

. . . the biggest surprise, and the one most relevant to current debates, is a "revolutionary" experiment Linden discusses near the end of his book. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health gave thirsty monkeys the option of looking at either of two visual symbols. No matter which they moved their eyes to, a few seconds later the monkeys would receive a random amount of water. But looking at one of the symbols caused the animals to receive an extra cue that indicated how big the reward would be. The monkeys learned to prefer that symbol, which differed from the other only by providing a tiny amount of information they did not already have. And the same dopamine neurons that initially fired only in anticipation of water quickly learned to fire as soon as the information-providing symbol became visible. "The monkeys (and presumably humans as well) are getting a pleasure buzz from the information itself," Linden writes.

For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. "Think Again." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 12-13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title "Is the Brain Good at What It Does?")

The book under review, is:

Linden, David J. The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. New York: Viking Adult, 2011.

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