Curiosity improves learning and memory for things we are not even interested in.

It’s no surprise that when we are curious about something, it makes it easier to learn. But cutting-edge research published in the academic journal Neuron (link is external) provides startling evidence for how a curious state of mind improves learning and memory for things we are not even interested in.

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

While Einstein probably suffered from modesty in addition to curiosity, it is interesting to note that he attributes his intelligence and success to having a curious mind.

A recent study in the field of cognitive neuroscience from the University of California, Davis provides surprising insights into the interesting link between curiosity, learning, and memory.

For the study, participants were given a series of trivia questions. The researchers asked the participants to rate their level of curiosity to learn the answers for each question. They were then presented with the trivia. After each question, there was a 14-second delay before the answer was given. During that time, the researchers flashed a picture of a neutral, unrelated face.

Once the trivia session was complete, the participants were given a surprise memory recognition test based on the faces the participants saw during the trivia. Additionally, during the study, researchers scanned the participants’ brain activity with an FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).

Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat. It Improved His Memory

The study reveals several interesting findings of what happens to the brain when it is piqued with curiosity.

We already know that when we are curious about a topic, it is easier to learn. And, as expected, the study proves that when participants were highly curious to find the answer to the trivia question, they were better at learning that information. But what the researchers really cared about was to see how the participants did on the face recognition test when they were highly curious.

This is the interesting bit. The researchers found that when participants’ curiosity was aroused by wanting to know a certain trivia question, they were better at learning entirely unrelated information, which was the face recognition, even though they were not curious about that information. In both the immediate and the one-day-delayed memory tests, the participants showed improved memory for the unrelated material they encountered during states of high curiosity.

“Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it,” says Dr. Matthias Gruber, lead author of the study.

How Intrinsic Motivation Affects Learning

So how does this work? The FMRI data reveals the underlying mechanisms that are activated when curiosity is engaged. The study provides insight into the link between curiosity and how intrinsic motivation affects memory.

Curiosity is a form of intrinsic motivation. When you are curious to learn a topic you are motivated to learn for its own sake. Surprisingly, little is known about the mechanisms behind how intrinsic motivational states affect learning. This is one of the reasons why this recent study is so important. It gives us insight into what happens in our brain when we become curious.

The investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the reward center of the brain. This is very interesting considering that normally extrinsic motivation is thought of as recruiting the brain’s reward circuits. Extrinsic motivation is engaging in a behavior because your motivation is an external reward. Yet the research revealed an interesting neural connection between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

“Intrinsic motivation actually recruits the very same brain areas that are heavily involved in tangible, extrinsic motivation,” Dr. Gruber explains.

Additionally, researchers found an interesting link between curiosity and activity in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is not the part of your brain that looks like a hippo. Actually, it is the part of your brain that looks like a seahorse, from the Greek hippos for “horse,” and kampos for “sea monster.” The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is important for forming new memories.

The scientists found that there was increased activity in the hippocampus during the curiosity motivated learning. They also found that when curiosity learning was engaged there was increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit.

“Curiosity recruits the reward system,” explains Dr. Charan Ranganath, principal investigator of the study “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.”

The findings demonstrate just how powerful a curious state of mind can be for learning information that you do not find interesting.

This is particularly important for learning how to help individuals retain boring information either in the classroom or workplace. To facilitate learning, often we try to make the material interesting. This is a fine strategy if the material can be made interesting. Remember the pictures of neutral faces were pretty boring content.

But the important implications of this study is that this is not the only way. The findings show that another strategy you have at your disposal is to take less interesting material and attach it to interesting content to reap the carry over effects of curiosity. This strategy focuses less on making the material interesting and more on creating an environment of curiosity into which the material can be inserted.

In this way, the secret to making boring work memorable is to harness the students’ and workers’ curiosity about something they are already motivated to learn.

Adoree Durayappah-Harrison, M.Div., M.A.P.P., M.B.A., is a Texas born writer now based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Learn more at

Source: The Secret Benefits of a Curious Mind | Psychology Today




This is our first e-book or manual written for students, parents, teachers and mentors. Its aim is to enhance the capacity of various users according to their needs. It focuses on Behavioral, Motivational, Finishing Touches and other aspects of Life and Leisure Skills meant to empower students and give them richer school experiences. Parts of the write-ups come from internal work done at our schools namely Mason College and PASS Tutorial College both in Festac, Lagos. There are also contributions, extract, excerpts from many external sources and resources from seminars ,books ,and the internet..We hope our readers will find the contents cheerful and relevant enough to meet each at their points of need. We hereby wish to say a few more words to them:

Education takes place throughout life from the cradle up to the end. As we learn each day it is important to be careful of the type of education we get. The years you spend in a secondary school are when you learn the most and pick up most of your habits that will take you through life. So it is important to be careful of the type of things you imbibe.
A long time ago before secondary school you discovered that you were under authority and that you are rule-bound. You have encountered rules at home, regulations at school a bit of the laws of the land and the commandments of God. But not all these laws please you. Some you have defied.
Sometimes life gets a little hectic. Tests to study, home work to submit, household chores to finish. So life gets a bit stressful. But many times those who surround you cannot even understand that life can also be tough at your age. So you have sought for wishful understanding or escape routes many times. In some cases you have cheated on engage yourself in make – believe lifestyles for illusory dreams of what you really want to do, places you’ll like to be or persons you would like to become.
Sometimes you also feel like an island on an unfriendly ocean. Things do go wrong between you and your friends, your parents or your teachers. Misunderstanding or prejudices can separate you from them. Angry words can kill your spirit. When these happens the awful feeling of loneliness and separation set in at home or at school. Not many students can escape the breakdown of communication, feeling of irritation, contempt and words of hostility and bitterness.

This handbook has been written to assist you understand your feelings and relationships with yourself, fellow students, teachers and parents. The book wants to tell you how to nurture your relationships into strong and beautiful structures with your classmates, teachers and parents. That is why it is called STUDENTS’ SCHOOL EMPOWERMENT HANDBOOK.
The contents of the book focus on the following.
a) Academic Tools for Empowerment.
b) Personal Empowerment.
c) Social Empowerment.
d) Empowerment for Employment and Community Responsibility

The handbook was also written for quick reference purposes. Most of the contents are made up of quips, quotes or numbered points which can easily be understood instead of wordy essays. However there are certain parts of the book containing  speeches or stories to enhance the points made in other parts. Those were compiled specially for you in mind and we hope you will find the book interesting . Please take note of the following words of advice as you get set to read the book.
1. If the cap fits, expand your head.
2. You are your owns’ best coach.
3. Reject Failure
4. Develop your own drive
5. Get a life!
6. Perseverance is key to success.
7. Your destiny is in your hands
8. Master your limiting beliefs
9. Strive to stand tall.
10. Review your mind.
11. Be focused.
12. Say “No” to poverty from youth.

This book is meant as an essential guide for all persons dealing with youth and students. Some of the aims of the book include:
a) As a guide on academic matters
b) To promote good behavior and values
c) To motivate those in charge of youth for better services and students for self – development to overcome adversity and self – defeating habits.
As earlier mentioned the book was compiled over many years from several sources. The contents cover both motivational and inspirational messages in the following forms:
a) Thoughts, Ideas and tips.
b) Guidelines, Techniques and Related Suggestions
c) Sparkling Quips, Quotes, Poetry etc.
We hope many of you will find the contents useful as a reference resource. Above all we expect readers will find fun, leisure, relationship and mental stimulus from reading the book. Though the topics have been arranged under main headings we do not see them as compartmentalized as they might seem to some readers.

What we are offering through this book is a combination of our work and other sources. As much as possible the external sources have their names indicated where such extracts or excerpts were used. Exceptions are for those whose names could not be sourced or determined. Any missing acknowledgement should be pointed out to us as soon as it is known for correction as it is not our intention to plagiarize work not belonging to us.
Thank you.