Common sense tells us that we cherish rain more after a drought, we appreciate a steady paycheck more when we know what financial stress is, and we take more pride in accomplishments that don't happen often. The same is said for happiness; how can we be truly happy if we never experience unhappiness? We sometimes employ psychological tricks to tell ourselves we are happy, but the real rush comes from novelty, meaning a change in happiness level. We know all this intuitively, but it's nice to have a breakdown from a neuroscientist. Professor Indira M. Raman explains that this novelty factor goes all the way down to our neurons. They don't so much measure all incoming stimuli equally, but the changes in those signals at the molecular level. When a stimulus is equal over time, it tends to be ignored.
The ability to get used to and ultimately ignore incoming information that is static, familiar, predictable, and non-harmful turns out to be helpful behaviorally; in other words, it offers an evolutionary advantage. Continuing to notice sensations like the light touch of our clothes on our arms or the mild fragrance of the laundry detergent we used to wash them would be distracting, to say the least, and might even interfere with our ability to detect and respond to a signal that mattered, like a tap on the shoulder or our toast burning. In fact, an inability to predict and thereby adapt may be a contributing factor to conditions like autism spectrum disorders.12 Besides, it’s wasteful to send brain signals to report information we already know about. When all those ions flow in and out of cells to send signals within our brains, they cannot just remain on the opposite side from where they started. It literally consumes energy to pump sodium back out of neurons and potassium back into them, so it is most efficient not to generate action potentials that don’t carry worthwhile information.
Read about how our very biology works to focus on change instead of static conditions at Nautilus. - via Metafilter
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