How Curiosity Improves Memory and Learning

By | November 7, 2014

curiosity-brain-learningWant to enhance your memory and learn new information more efficiently? Indulge yourself in a favorite trivia game or popular culture website – briefly – before focusing on your new work.

That’s the implication from a new brain imaging study from a University of California at Davis research team, published online in the journal Neuron.

Research participants were presented with a series of trivia questions along with their corresponding answers from online trivia websites. The questions corresponded to trivia categories that might elicit different levels of curiosity in people: history/geography/movies/TV/ music/ nature/ science/ space/ sports/ food/ and other miscellaneous facts.

During the trivia Q & A game, participants were also shown a series of neutral, unrelated faces. As expected, participants were highly curious to know the correct answers to favorite trivia questions.

Curiosity Primes the Brain for Learning

What the study also revealed was that once their curiosity was aroused, participants showed better learning of entirely unrelated information – the face recognition task.

The brain imaging results for the study showed a positive correlation between highly curious states and activation of the motivation-reward circuitry in the human brain. This positive activation included the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for the formation and consolidation of new information (also known as learning!)

Essentially, curiosity primes the brain for learning of any new information, whether it’s interesting or not to the learner. This can create some interesting ways to spark learning across all ages.

See also: The Myth of Using Only 10% of Our Brains