The pleasure experienced in the brain by comprehension is similar to that produced by opium
Whenever the brain grasps something a shot of endorphins rewards our neurons with a pleasure rush similar to that produced by opium. A 2006 study by Dr. Irving Biederman, published in American Scientist, reached this surprising conclusion: there is no greater pleasure for our brain than that of comprehension. Moreover, this pleasure is similar to that experienced through use of opiates. Curiously, and to us most interestingly, it is visual information that is best at activating the areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward. Our predilection for television screens, DVD players, cinema… our predilection for images is a definitive consequence of our desire to experience pleasure via visual stimulation.
Carnivores, herbivores and infovores
Well, let’s start at the beginning: human beings have an innate hunger for information. We are designed to be “infovores”. Of course, infovore behaviour is only activated when other, more basic motivations, for example the feeding urge, have been satisfied. That said, the infovore system is very important for both evolutionary and anthroplogical reasons. Its purpose is to optimise the speed with which we acquire knowledge, even when we have no immediate need for it. Acquired knowledge can be of practical value at any point in the future.
If infovore behaviour is so valuable to our species, one would expect the brain to have celular and molecular mechanisms that would favor the acquisition of information. And, yes indeed, Irving Biederman identified a system with these characteristics, a reward network based on natural opiates produced in the brain.
Endorphins, the source of pleasure
Endorphins (the name derives from “endogenous morphines”) are endogenous opioid neuropeptides, which simply means that they are produced by the organism itself. They originate in the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in association with physical exercise, arousal, pain, the consumption of spicy food or chocolate, falling in love and having an orgasm. They are similar to opiates in their analgesic effect and in the feeling of well being that they provoke. Unsurprisingly, the areas of the brain most sensitive to endorphins are generally located in parts of the central nervous system devoted to the management of pain and reward.
However, what is truly surprising is that endorphin sensitivity has also been detected in an area of the cerebral cortex devoted to the processing of visual information known as the ventral visual pathway. In his investigation, Irving Biederman has shown by using magnetic resonance that visual stimuli provoke augmented neuronal activity in this area and, therefore, an increase in the production of endorphins and correspondingly higher levels of stimulation.
And thrilling, isn’t it?
Now anyone can understand the success of explainer videos and infographics
What conclusions can we draw from this discovery? Many, without doubt. However, from the point of view of Content Marketing there is one which, by definition, cannot go unoticed or be ignored: visual content is a vital tool in the effective transmission of information, because the human brain is genetically designed to prefer it. Stated simply, it gives us pleasure. We might have guessed it, but now we have scientific confirmation.
We’ll leave you with an explainer video that we hope will not only confirm Dr. Biederman’s theory but also give you a modicum of pleasure.