A joint Spanish–German team headed up researchers at Barcelona's Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute has found learning new words activates the ventral striatum, a reward centre in the adult brain.
It's a part of the brain activated by activities such as gambling, sex and the eating of chocolate.
While scientists already knew that connections between neurons began firing off when people learned new words, the new study just published in Current Biology reveals emotions play a role as well.
"The purpose of the study was to find out to what extent learning a language could activate these pleasure and reward circuits," study author Antoni Rodríguez Fornells told Catalan regional daily La Vanguardia.
The findings reveal there is a possible emotional aspect to learning language, and could help explain how pleasure and reward might have influenced the development of the human language instinct.
The exciting results also show that adults are still motivated about language learning, something researchers say bodes well for the learning of second languages. At the same time, the study could open the door to new treatments for people with language-learning difficulties.
The study saw 36 adults participate in language-based and gambling-like trials: both activated the same parts of the brain.