Why do special delivery flowers bring more joy than those bought at the corner market? Why are cheers following a walk-off game winning homerun so much louder than those acknowledging an early lead held until the last out is made in the ninth inning of a baseball game? Why is that first date kiss more highly anticipated than an embrace from a long-term partner? Or, audience belly laughs heard when water shoots from a flower on a circus clown’s lapel into an unsuspecting recipient’s eye?
It turns out that humans crave those unexpected pleasures and events more than the status quo in their daily lives. In an April 2001 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine summarized their findings of an exercise where they used a computer-controlled device to squirt water or fruit juice into awaiting participants’ mouths. The squirts came in patterns, both consistent and broken. What they found was that the brain’s pleasure centers subconsciously reacted more favorably to unexpected patterns.