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Curiosity In a Person's Brain Creates Desire to Learn and Improves Retention, Study Suggests


A new study has learned that people tend to have better memory when experiencing something with genuine curiosity, as opposed to something that is monotonous.

According to the Washington Post, authors of a study published in the journal Neuron asked participants to rate their level of curiosity before learning the answer to a trivia question. To measure brain activity, they were then placed in an MRI machine when they learned the answer.

Participants saw the question, then an image of a person's face and had to come up with a focused decision on the person before getting the answer to the question. After the MRI, they were given a pop quiz on the trivia questions to determine how well the retained the information.

"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," study lead author Dr. Matthias Gruber, of the University of California at Davis, said in a press release.

The researchers that not only were the participants able to remember the answers to the questions and retain the information, they remembered the faces. Increased curiosity was directly related to better performance from the brain's hippocampus, the area associated with memory. Curiosity also stimulates the brain's region related to rewarding.

"We showed that intrinsic motivation actually recruits the very same brain areas that are heavily involved in tangible, extrinsic motivation," Gruber said.

In other words, curiosity helps learning but also makes a person want to learn, rather than making it feel like a chore.

"Importantly, this paper reveals that like emotion, curiosity does not only determine whether the information of interest will be remembered, but it may also influence memory for extraneous/incidental information present at the time," Fiona Kumfor, a research officer at Neurosceience Research Australia, told the Post. "Previous research has suggested that the beneficial effects of intrinsic reward and extrinsic reward are not additive."

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