There is a very popular saying that, most probably, we are all aware of. It is” Old is Gold.” I couldn’t agree more with these words. There is some beauty in what is antique and old. But as it turns out that we, as humans, don’t necessarily follow it. Actually, our brains don’t let us.
Does it ever happens with you that you have a phone that is capable of doing every work of yours yet you still crave for that new one whose advertisement you just saw? Or does it happens with you that you are reading a book and are bored of it too soon that you are already thinking of picking up a new one? Do you also keep checking your emails every 5 or 10 minutes even though you know there won’t be another email for the next half an hour or so? Human beings have always been attracted towards ‘what is new’ or ‘novel’. New things make us feel so good that we are always seeking them.
Now the question comes why does it happen? What’s the story behind it?
Novelty and The Human Brain
It is not entirely right blaming people when it comes to their tendency of checking phones quite frequently or buying new gadgets from time to time. Somewhere our brains are at fault. Human brain works in such a way that it ignores what is old and focuses the attention towards what’s new. From the evolutionary point of view it is quite plausible because our ancestors needed to pay more attention towards the ‘new dangers’ to survive and not towards what is already known or familiar.
Research especially in the field of neuroscience has shown that whenever we are exposed to new things (new hair color, new people, new shoes, new watch, new house, etc.) or novelty our meso-limbic dopamine system gets activated. When the dopamine system is activated a neurotransmitter called dopamine gets send across different brain regions. This gives us pleasure but at the same time our brain starts telling us to seek more of novelty. This is the reason why new stuff makes us feel good for the time being. This is the reason why a notification on social media makes us feel good. This is the reason why we are always refreshing our emails. Every new thing causes dopamine to get released and that pleasure is what we are after.
Novelty and learning
While it is true that our tendency to seek novelty make us lives a little disruptive, it is not wrong to acknowledge that, nevertheless, novelty has many benefits especially in learning. Earlier it was believed that dopamine is merely a ‘reward chemical’ or ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. However, recent studies have shown that it is also related to our motivation to seek rewards. These result in brain reacting to novelty by releasing dopamine which further motivates us to explore more of that stuff.
Due to the influence of novelty, plasticity of the hippocampus (which is primarily associated with memory) gets increased while the brain is involved in exploring new things or stimuli in the environment. This causes new neural pathways to get formed, thereby increasing the chances of learning new concepts and ideas. Novelty has also been shown to improve our memory. That is why it is always a good idea to change our environment from time to time while we are working or studying. Working or studying at the same place all the time impedes our progress and by changing the location we improve our performance as brain responds differently (and in a good way in this case) in new settings.
Managing the inclination towards novelty
When novelty isn’t for our benefit it becomes very important that we take control of ourselves and our actions. Whenever we are distracted by new stuff like media notifications, devices and many other things we should be mindful of their usage. We should put a hold for some time and let those cravings and urges pass away. It is quite understandable that it is not easy in any way but with constant practice we can surely get better.