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How Curiosity Helps You Learn

by Beth on October 17th, 2017

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”  – Albert Einstein

Did you know that curiosity helps you learn better? It also makes learning more fun.

That’s because curiosity impacts your brain activity and chemistry. In one study, psychologists gave volunteers over 100 trivia questions and asked them to rate how curious they were to know the answers to each question. Then they used an fMRI machine to monitor the brain activity of the volunteers while they reviewed the questions and their answers.

Results showed greater activity in the area of the brain responsible for memory formation for the questions people had been more curious about. The participants were later tested on the trivia questions, and they were more likely to remember the right answers to the high-curiosity questions.

What’s even more interesting is that the researchers included random pictures of people’s faces in between some of the questions and answers. Participants were also given a memory test for those faces, and results showed that recognition was higher for faces that had been presented during states of high curiosity.

This means that curiosity puts our brain into a learning mode, which helps us learn the things we are motivated to learn and anything else there is to learn in that moment. So teachers can make it easier for students to learn math by using problems that are tailored to their interests.

The brain scans also showed that the region of the brain associated with reward and pleasure was activated when people were curious. Dopamine, a feel-good chemical, is released in the brain when we perceive something to be novel, uncertain, or challenging. So we experience higher levels of dopamine when we are curious about something.

All of this points to the value of stimulating curiosity to enhance learning. Schools and workplaces alike will benefit from tapping into people’s natural curiosity when designing learning experiences. Start with questions that will spark curiosity.

What are you interested in? How can you use that to learn more yourself?

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