A new study by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.


“To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful,” says Assoc. Prof. Ming Hsu, a neuroeconomist whose research employs functional magnetic imaging (fMRI), psychological theory, economic modeling, and machine learning. “And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful—what some may call idle curiosity.”


The paper, “Common neural code for reward and information value,” was published this month by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Authored by Hsu and graduate student Kenji Kobayashi, now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, it demonstrates that the brain converts information into the same common scale as it does for money. It also lays the groundwork for unraveling the neuroscience behind how we consume information—and perhaps even digital addiction.


“We were able to demonstrate for the first time the existence of a common neural code for information and money, which opens the door to a number of exciting questions about how people consume, and sometimes over-consume, information,” Hsu says.


The paper examines such topics as: 


  • The neuroscience of curiosity
  • A common neural code for information and money
  • And raises questions about digital addiction.
  • The full media release is attached – click on the link to read more.


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How information is like snacks, money, and drugs—to your brain | Haas News | Berkeley Haas


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Ming Hsu is an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He holds appointments in the Haas School of Business and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. Hsu is a Leading expert in neuromarketing and the application of biological methods to understand consumer behavior. He is available to speak with the media—simply click on his icon to arrange an interview.