This Is Your Brain On The Kardashians

Photo: Matt Baron/BEImages.
From a long-distance crush to good ol' schadenfreude, there are plenty of reasons why we love hearing about celebrities. And now,Wired reports that new research suggests reward-related brain areas are activated when we're taking our daily dose of TMZ — even if we won't admit it. 

The study, published online in the journal Social Neuroscience, looked at 17 participants' brains while they heard either positive or negative gossip about themselves, a friend, or a celebrity. The gossip was in the form of something that person had done, so a positive story might be something like "Cared for a loved one who was seriously ill" while a negative tidbit was something more like "Peed in public." You know, the classics. Participants also rated how they felt while hearing the gossip, including how happy, annoyed, satisfied, content, or bored they were.

The researchers found that people didn't explicitly state that they felt any differently about negative friend gossip vs. negative star gossip. But, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers saw the participants' caudate nuclei (a brain area often associated with rewarding feelings) were more active when the juicy details were about a celebrity doing something negative, rather than a friend.

As the investigators put it, "Although participants’ ratings did not show they were particularly happy on hearing negative gossip about celebrities, the significantly enhanced neural activity in the reward system suggested that they were indeed amused."

Hear that? This suggests that — as much as you may claim otherwise — you probably enjoy finding out about the Kardashians' adventures on some (possibly embarrassing) level. Of course, the usual disclaimers about fMRI apply here: Because it's an indirect measure of brain activity, we don't know for sure what that activation really means. In this case, it's even trickier, because participants' self-reported feelings didn't match up with the neural readings. Still, if the schadenfreude aspect rings too true for you, don't worry: We won't tell.
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