It’s no secret that it is easier to learn about a subject we find interesting compared to one we find boring, but why?
Cristiana Vagnoni on Neurobabble looks at some new research which sheds light on how the process may work and the ways in which curiosity affects memory.
The paper, published in the journal Neuron, describes a study in which subjects were shown a series of trivia questions and was asked to rate how curious they were to find out each answer.
Their brain activity was then monitored in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner while a selected trivia question was presented, followed by its answer. Before the answer appeared, however, the subjects were also shown a picture of a neutral face, which was unrelated to the task. After the scan, participants were tested on how well they remembered the answers to the trivia questions. They were also tested on how well they remembered the faces.
The researchers found not only that curiosity improved the participants’ memory for the trivia questions but that their increased interest also resulted in better memory for the faces shown after these questions.
The MRI scans shows that curiosity ratings were associated with a higher activation of brain areas that have previously been linked to extrinsic reward-related memor
The reward in this task – having your curiosity satisfied – came from within, however. These findings suggest that a common mechanism may be shared between extrinsic and intrinsic reward-related memory.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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