When you are curious about a topic, you tend to learn more about it. Now, researchers are able to see what’s going on in the brain during that process, revealing that curiosity may give a person a memory boost. “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,” Matthias Gruber, a memory researcher at the University of California, Davis, said in a statement. “These findings suggest ways to enhance learning in the classroom and other settings.”
For the study, researchers put participants in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and showed them a series of trivia questions and asked their curiosity in learning about the subject. After, participants were asked those questions followed by a picture of a neutral face during a 14-second delay, then the answer. Last, participants were given a surprise memory test of the faces, and then a memory test of the trivia answers.
The researchers found people remembered more information about the trivia when they were curious about the trivia answers. In addition, when they were curious, they were also better at remembering the faces and were more likely to remember both the trivia information and unrelated faces a day later. Researchers also found that participants who were curious showed more activation of brain circuits in the nucleus accumbens, an area involved in reward.
These findings highlight the importance of curiosity for learning in healthy people, but could also give insight into neurological conditions. The researchers said this could help researchers better understand memory disorders.