If an urge to explore rises in us innately, perhaps its foundation lies within our genome. In fact there is a mutation that pops up frequently in such discussions: a variant of a gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward. Researchers have repeatedly tied the variant, known as DRD4-7R and carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, to curiosity and restlessness. Dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure. Studies in animals simulating 7R’s actions suggest it increases their taste for both movement and novelty. (Not incidentally, it is also closely associated with ADHD.)
The people who keep this spirit of playful engagement with the possibilities of the moment closest at hand—the Cooks and Tupaias, the Sally Rides and Michael Barratts—are the explorers.
Restless Genes – David Dobbs on how we evolved to explore.
Complement with Neil deGrasse Tyson on why we’re wired for curiosity.