Einstein once claimed – “Curiosity has its own reason for existing,” he was right and the researchers have discovered that reason. It is a common observation when we are curious about something, it is easy to learn information about it.
Now, science confirms this by showing that curiosity changes the brain in ways to enhance learning. Carried out by a team at University of California, the research has revealed insights on how curiosity affects memory.
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The participants were asked to rate their curiosity to learn the answers to as series of trivia questions. Later, they were presented with selected trivia question, there was a 14 second delay before answer was provided during which they were shown a picture of neutral, unrelated face. After this participants performed surprise recognition memory test for the answers to the trivia questions.
During certain parts of study, participants had their brains scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Three important findings were revealed by the study.
First, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning the information. This was expected. On the other hand, some observation was surprising. It was found that once the curiosity was aroused, participants showed better learning of the entirely unrelated information in this case face recognition. Even though they weren’t necessarily curious about the unrelated information, they learned it anyway. People were also better at retaining the information learned during curious state across a 24 hour delay.
Secondly, the researchers found when curiosity is stimulated, there is an increase in the activity in the brain circuit related to reward. This reward circuit relies on dopamine.
Third finding was when curiosity motivated learning, there was an increase in activity in hippocampus, a region of brain where new memories are formed. Not only this but there was an increase in the interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit.
These results suggest that curiosity recruits reward system and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus puts the brain in a state in which new information can not only be learned but also retained even if that information is of no particular or importance. These findings can suggest ways to enhance learning and memory in both healthy people and those with neurological disorders. For example, as a person gets older the brain circuits that rely on dopamine decline.
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Understanding the neurology of behaviors such as motivation and memory could therefore help improve memory in healthy elderly and develop new approaches for treating patients with disorders that affect memory. These findings can also be implicated in classroom or workplace by stimulating the curiosity thus helping to learn what one might consider boring material.