According to a study from the University of California, researchers have gathered new insight into how our natural curiosity in a subject makes it easier for our brain to learn information about it. The research appears in the latest issue of the journal Neuron, offering insights into how our brain reacts when curiosity is piqued.
“Our findings potentially have far-reaching implications for the public because they reveal insights into how a form of intrinsic motivation—curiosity—affects memory. These findings suggest ways to enhance learning in the classroom and other settings,” said Dr. Matthias Gruber, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of California at Davis.
In the study, participants rated their curiosity to gain knowledge of the answers to a series of trivia questions. When they were later presented with a selected trivia question, there was a 14-second delay prior to the answer being provided, during which the participants were shown a picture of a neutral, unrelated face. Afterwards, participants performed a pop quiz – a surprise recognition memory test for the faces that were presented, followed by a memory test for the answers to the trivia questions, reports Science Recorder.
During certain parts of the study, participants had their brains scanned via functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The study produced three major findings. One, when people were exceedingly curious to discover the answer to a question, they were better able to learn the information. Two, the researchers found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward. Three, the researchers found that when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is important to forming new memories and increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit.
The findings could be beneficial for medicine, education and beyond, and aid researchers in betting a better understanding of the brain.