Summary The desire to seek new and unfamiliar experiences is a fundamental behavioral tendency in humans and other species. In economic decision making, novelty seeking is often rational, insofar as uncertain options may prove valuable and advantageous in the long run. Here, we show that, even when the degree of perceptual familiarity of an option is unrelated to choice outcome, novelty nevertheless drives choice behavior. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we show that this behavior is specifically associated with striatal activity, in a manner consistent with computational accounts of decision making under uncertainty. Furthermore, this activity predicts interindividual differences in susceptibility to novelty. These data indicate that the brain uses perceptual novelty to approximate choice uncertainty in decision making, which in certain contexts gives rise to a newly identified and quantifiable source of human irrationality.