A new study at the University of California, Davis, shows that the more curious we are about a subject the better we remember the information learned about it. Additionally, curiosity literally changes the brain and makes learning about unrelated topics easier as well.

Curiosity When Piqued, Boosts The Memory

The lead author of the study, Dr. Matthias Gruber and study leader Charan Ranganath, hope that their findings will help educators and scientists find ways to boost overall learning in both healthy individuals and those that suffer from neurological conditions in the future.

“We think curiosity is the drive to fill that gap. It’s like an itch you just have to scratch,” Ranganath said.

Curiosity study: Use of trivia and MRI scanners

Researchers first found 19 participants for the study and asked them to rank over 100 trivia questions based on how curious they were to find the answers. Next, those that participated were given the answers to 112 questions with a 14 second delay, of the questions whose answers were given only half had piqued the curiosity of the participants when they made their rankings. A random face was then displayed for two seconds before each answer was given.

While the results were being displayed the participants were wearing fMRI scanners. After that part of the study, those in the study were tested to find out what answers they remembered as well as which faces. Researches found that the participants in the study remembered the answers and faces that accompanied the questions they found most intriguing. The test was then repeated the next day and both confirmed the results but also suggests that curiosity could aid our long-term memory as well as the short-term.

Rewards and practical applications

“So curiosity recruits the reward system, and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus seem to put the brain in a state in which you are more likely to learn and retain information, even if that information is not of particular interest or importance,” study leader Charan Ranganath says.

And practical applications are the goal.

“Our findings potentially have far-reaching implications for the public because they reveal insights into how a form of intrinsic motivation — curiosity — affects memory,” Gruber says. “These findings suggest ways to enhance learning in the classroom and other settings.”