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Curious people are smarter and learn better

Curious people are smarter and learn better

May 27, 2024

A study published in the magazine Neuron, says that Curiosity is beneficial for learning . According to this research, people find it easier to memorize and retain information about those topics that are curious, because this state of intrinsic motivation it increases the activity of the mesencephalon, the nucleus accumbens and the hippocampus (brain areas related to learning, memory and the repetition of pleasurable behaviors).

Although many of us have already experienced it, these findings could help scientists find new ways to improve learning and memory, and could provide new educational strategies for teachers.

The relationship between curiosity and learning is not new

That we learn faster about those issues that arouse our interest and our curiosity is not new. Surely, when a person says "he does not like or is not curious about what he studies", he will have difficulties to carry out a good learning. In fact, we learn much better through meaningful learning. But this research provides information about how curiosity relates to how the brain works and how intrinsic motivation affects learning.

Matthias Gruber and his collaborators conducted the research at the University of California and found that when we are curious about something, our mind not only absorbs what interests us, but also we also memorize the data that surrounds the subject of our interest , and that at first is alien to the object of curiosity. On the other hand, the researchers also concluded that the hippocampus, which helps the formation of memory, is activated more when we show more interest.

Núcleo accumbens: motivation, pleasure and learning

One area of ​​the brain involved with motivation and the repetition of pleasurable behaviors is the nucleus accumbens (which is part of the reward system). This is found in both hemispheres, and receives input from several brain centers related to the emotions (Amygdala and hypothalamus) and the memory (emotional, procedural and declarative). In addition, it receives dopaminergic afferents from the ventral tegmental area and motor areas of the cortex. The presence of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens facilitates long-term memory and learning.

But the nucleus accumbens is also related to motivation, and the curiosity causes the activation of the reward circuit (of which the nucleus accumbens is part). Guber states: "We have shown that intrinsic motivation actually recruits the same areas of the brain that are strongly involved in tangible extrinsic motivation."

On the other hand, as other investigations had concluded in the past, to activate the nucleus accumbens it is necessary that the event be novel and unexpected (that does not agree with the information that we have stored in the memory). After this investigation, it seems that curiosity, which can be understood as the search for novelty or the desire to know or find out something, also activates it.

Data of the study and conclusions

To carry out the study, 19 students were recruited to score more than 100 questions of a trivia, indicating their degree of curiosity (from 0 to 6) and their perception of self-confidence in answering them correctly.

Then, the scientists measured the brain activity of each subject using the imaging technique called functional magnetic resonance (FMRI). Meanwhile, on a screen, each participant was shown the questions they had classified as curious or non-curious, and each question took 14 seconds to appear. In this interval of time, images of faces with a facial expression appeared that had nothing to do with the questions.

Later the students answered these questions and, in addition, they were given a surprise exam in which they should remember the faces. The results indicated that lThe subjects remembered the faces in 71% of the cases in which they had qualified the question as curious. On the contrary, in the questions that had been classified as non-curious, they only remembered 54% of the faces . Something that did not surprise anyone.

But what did surprise the researchers is that when analyzing the face recognition test, the more curious they had evaluated a photo (from 0 to 6) the participants, the more faces they remembered. In addition, although the faces were not related to the questions, they memorized them even 24 hours later.


In summary, after the study, the researchers stated that:

  • The state of curiosity helps to improve learning , because we memorize topics that are more interesting to us (although they are more difficult).
  • When activated in our brain "the state of curiosity" we are able to retain information, even incidental material (the one about which we are not so curious at first).
  • The state of curiosity activates in our brain the nucleus accumbens and the mesencephalon (areas involved in learning, memory, motivation and reinforcement of pleasurable behaviors) and the hippocampus.
  • The material we learn when our brain is activated in this way it lasts much longer, giving rise to meaningful learning .

Scientists Reveal 13 Signs of Exceptional Intelligence (May 2024).

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