Our brains aren’t wired the same. For some of us, diversity is of most importance, while for others, monotony is the answer when t comes to feeling good. A recent study found the neurological answer for those differences in our behavior and emotional well-being.
Are you a wanderer or a keeper?
Some of us are always searching for something new, always changing activities, hobbies, places, and even major things such as careers and places we live in. We need the change to feel fulfilled, happy, alive. We act like any other dependent. It could be defined as a lust for life. We’re the wanderers.
On the other side, different from us, are people who depend on their habits, places they know, routines they master. This is what gives them comfort. Knowing is what makes them vibrate to the activity they engage in. They are the keepers.
And science has finally found that there is a tangible reason for those differences. They aren’t just a matter of life philosophy. It is hidden inside our brains in the relationship our hippocampi have with the striatum. The stronger the relationship, the bigger wanderer you’ll be.
Research explains why
Before the lockdown, the first author of the study Aaron Heller and his team watched the participants in two phases. In the first phase, their daily routines were tracked by GPS. Also, through text messages, they had to report to the researchers how their emotional state changed as they moved, or stayed in the same place for long.
In the next phase, the participants’ brain connectivity was MRI scanned. Scans showed that people who reported positive feelings to be consistent with constant movement and changing routines also had more robust connectivity between the two very close regions in their brains: the hippocampus and the striatum.
“Happy,” “excited,” “strong,” “relaxed,” or “attentive” were the words they used most to describe their feeling when they were experiencing change.
“Our results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines—when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences,” said senior author Catherine Hartley, assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology.
The hippocampus and the striatum
The two hippocampi we have, one in every hemisphere of our brains, are responsible for consolidating information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Another major role they play is in spatial memory, which enables navigation.
The corpus striatum is a hub of neurons that play a ticklish role in our cognition and reward system. When we say striatum, we say motor and action planning, decision-making, motivation, and reinforcement.
When we go places, the two components of our brain are majorly stimulated together. They need one another to get us there. The joy we experience comes from the connectivity they share.
“These results suggest a reciprocal link between the novel and diverse experiences we have during our daily exploration of our physical environments and our subjective sense of well-being,” said Hartley.