When your curiosity is piqued, your brain is capable of learning or memorising better than when something is not as interesting to you. A recent study suggests your brain's chemistry is the reason why, and that you can use it to your advantage.
Photo by Saad Faruque
The study, published in the journal Neuron and led by Matthias J. Gruber, involved the monitoring of participant's pleasure centres in their brain while they learned various trivia. When they were tested, those who were more curious about certain topics had their pleasure centres light up and they answered more of those questions correctly.
It might seem obvious that you would develop a stronger understanding of the things you're curious about, but your brain's pleasure and reward centre may also help you learn about less interesting things too if you can connect them. Charan Ranganath, another researcher from the study, spoke with Maanvi Singh at NPR and suggested that if your curiosity is already piqued, you could learn things you find less interesting better too:
"Say you're watching the Breaking Bad finale," Ranganath explains. If you're a huge fan of the show, you're certainly really curious to know what happens to its main character, Walter White. "You'll undoubtedly remember what happens in the finale," he says, but you might also remember what you ate before watching the episode, and what you did right after.
Teachers have been using this technique for ages, disguising maths problems as stories or games, but how can you use this to your own advantage? Look for ways to connect the uninteresting things you have to learn with something you're curious and excited about. Whatever makes you tick can be used, even if it's not actually related. Study in between 10-minute sessions of that show you're addicted to, go over presentation talking points while playing a new video game, or place study index cards throughout that new page-turner. Of course, there's still a lot we don't know about the brain and what other ways learning can be perfected, but it seems that it's a lot easier to get where you need to go when the engine is warmed up.
States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit [The Journal Neuron via NPR Ed]