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article imageResearch finds curiosity triggers changes in the brain

By Martin Laine     Oct 6, 2014 in Science
A new study shows how curiosity stimulates brain activity that helps us learn and retain new information. The research has implications for both improving learning in the classroom and in treating memory disorders.
“Our findings have potentially far-reaching implications for the public because they reveal insights into how a form of intrinsic motivation – curiosity – affects memory,” said Dr. Matthias Gruber of the at the University of California at Davis, in an article on Science Daily . “These findings suggest ways to enhance learning in the classroom and other settings.”
In their experiment, the researchers gave the participants a series of trivia questions, and asked them to rate their curiosity about each one. There was a 14-second lapse between the time they were given each question and given the answer. During that time, a picture of a neutral face, unrelated to the trivia question and unremarkable enough so that it wouldn’t trigger its own curiosity response, was shown to the participants.
Then afterwards, participants were given memory recognition tests that they had not been previously told would happen for the faces and the trivia questions. At various times during the experiment, their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
They results showed that for those trivia questions that the participants were most interested in, were better able to remember the information even after 24 hours. Furthermore, they were able to remember the accompanying face that they were shown, even though it had nothing to do with the question.
“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,” Dr. Gruber.
They also found that greater curiosity stimulated the part of the brain that senses reward, and increased activity in the hippocampus, the area where new memories are formed.
“So 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,” Dr. Gruber said.
More about Curiosity, matthias gruber, Neuroscience
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