From The Mountaintops To The Moon, Science Is Learning Why Humans Have Such A Deep Need To Explore

Adventure is out there!

For some, a pretty picture of a landscape or foreign city is merely good enough to be a desktop wallpaper or a cover photo on Facebook, while for others, it creates an overwhelming pull to go to that location and be a part of it. Those in the latter group know this feeling as wanderlust and know that the only way to fight it is to book a flight for their next vacation.

Humans have been on the move around the globe since our ancestors first left Africa nearly 2 million years ago. Early humans were nomadic, traveling to follow food and better living conditions. Over the years, different adaptations emerged among different groups, leaving them best suited for settled life in particular areas around the globe.

Modern culture has changed things. Humans don't have to chase sources of food anymore — it's just there thanks to agriculture. Irrigation means that people don't have seasonal water availability. Though most people have all of their biological needs met without having to leave their homes, some have never been able to overcome the desire to explore not just the far reaches of this planet, but have looked out to the stars as well.

So what is it, then, that causes that deep desire to constantly be on the move? According to a growing body of evidence, the answer could be genetic.


Dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) is a gene that helps regulate the neurotransmitter dopamine for the pleasure and reward center of the brain. Variants of this gene can manifest in several ways, including increased instance of mental illness such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), certain addictions, Parkinson's disease, and even eating disorders such as anorexia

One particular variant, known as DRD4-7R, is held by one-fifth of all humans and could be a large clue as to why some people are never content to stay in one place. As evolutionary biologists have found, this variant is more common among populations that travel more. These individuals also tend to be more open-minded when it comes to trying new foods, experiences, and introductions into foreign cultures, according to David Dobbs of National Geographic.

Of course, with more than 20,000 genes in the human genome, it would be overly simplistic to state that only one of them could be responsible for such a complex personality trait. There are likely many other factors that go into the curiosity that fuels wanderlust, but this is a pretty sensible start. 

Traveling and exploring is so intrinsically human that learning more about how and why these processes drive us is a big part in figuring out what makes humans unique.

The science of traveling is becoming an increasingly popular area of study. Earlier this year, a group of researchers from Germany found that traveling has positive personality benefits, such as becoming more outgoing, more tolerant of others, and an increased ability to adapt in uncertain situations. Ultimately, these can have incredibly positive effects on personal and business relationships. These have not focused on the biological drive to travel, but do speak to how wanderlust affects humans on a more complete level.

There is still much to know about how globetrotting affects humans on physical, mental, and even spiritual levels, but it is clear that becoming a more global citizen is best for us.

What location would you most like to explore? Let us know in the comments!

(H/T: National Geographic)

(Header image: iStockphoto)


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