Curiosity Strengthens Learning and Memory: MRI Study

Albert Einstein was five years old when he handled his father’s compass and found himself awestruck by a powerful curiosity: what invisible forces of nature were responsible for the device’s unerring ability to point northward? Many professionals report similar childhood experiences in which a new subject piqued their interest so urgently that their subsequent education choices branched around that initial moment of curiosity.

A new study published in the journal Neuron entitled States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit seeks to understand the human experience of curiosity through brain MRI. “People find it easier to learn about topics that interest them,MRI brain study links curiosity to better learning, memory retention but little is known about the mechanisms by which intrinsic motivational states affect learning,” states the summary by the study’s authors, who are researchers at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California.

The study included 19 participants who were shown 100 trivia questions on varying subjects–science, language, pop culture–and asked to rate each bit of trivia based on how curious they were in learning its answer. Then, the subjects learned the answers while undergoing brain MRI; where curiosity was inferred the brain regions associated with pleasure and reward were activated, as well as the hippocampus region, the area associated with the production and storage of memories.

What can teachers, students and anyone interested in acquiring knowledge learn from this?

“These findings highlight…the importance of stimulating curiosity to create more effective learning experiences,” the authors concluded.


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