The Power of Curiosity


It will come as no surprise to anyone that things are easier to learn when there’s curiosity involved. With that said, the brain circuitry and neural mechanisms underlying this learning phenomenon have remained largely unexplored – until now.

In a paper that appeared in the October online edition of Neuron, a team of scientists from the University of California at Davis first asked their subjects to rate their curiosity in response to a set of random trivia questions. Then, after placing them in a brain scanner, they presented them with the same set of questions before providing the answer.

After a memory recall test for these answers at various time points, the findings revealed three aspects of this curiosity-modulated effectiveness of the learning. As expected, the first of these showed that memory retrieval and recall was better when the subject was curious – no surprises there!

More interestingly though, the same effect was also seen for a seemingly unrelated face recognition task – with performance being upped even after a 24 hour delay. As explained by co-author Dr. Gruber: “Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it,”

On top of this, the team found increased activity in both the dopamine-driven reward pathway and hippocampus during curiosity-driven learning. As explained by lead author Dr. Charan Ranganath; “Curiosity recruits the reward system, and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus seem to put the brain in a state in which you are more likely to learn and retain information – even if that information is not of particular interest or importance,”

The original article can be found here.







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Max Sanderson

Science Communicator & Neuroscientist

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