|Anonymous painter, 15th century – Cahiers de Science et Vie no. 114.|
The more curious we are about a topic, the easier it is to learn information about that topic. A new study carried out by California University scientists provides insights into what happens in our brains when curiosity is piqued.
Participants in the study first rated their curiosity about the answers to a series of trivia questions. Later, they had their brains scanned via functional magnetic resonance imaging while they learned the answers to these questions.
The participants were presented with a selected trivia question and while they waited for the answer to pop up on the screen, they were shown a picture of a neutral, unrelated face.
Afterwards, they performed a surprise recognition memory test for the presented faces, followed by a memory test for the answers to the trivia questions.
As expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information.
More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about.
The participants were also better able to retain the information learned during a curious state across a 24-hour delay…
In addition, they found that when learning was motivated by curiosity, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the dopamine reward circuit…