Numerous studies have shown that curiosity can improve memory, especially for studying and learning purposes. Even though few students are naturally curious about everything they study, an organic interest in a subject truly does positively affect retention. For instance, think of a subject that interested you. Was it the rocket ship at the science fair? Learning how to play the tuba? Perhaps learning to cook your favorite recipe? You would be more likely to memorize something that you were at first curious about than something that did not interest you at all. Here are three more ways in which curiosity improves memory:
1. Your Brain Rewards You
When you learn something you are curious about, the pleasure (or reward) centers in your brain release pleasure neurochemicals. Based on Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning model, being rewarded for an action you have completed motivates you to repeat the action in the future. If you are chemically rewarded for something that you learned, this could spark your interest in learning more! Perhaps you want to learn more about this particular topic, or perhaps you are motivated to learn about a different topic. Either way, your brain is now primed to crave learning and the study of all things interesting to you.
2. A State of Curiosity Makes Learning other Information Easier
In addition to being able to better recall information about a topic that you may be curious about, being curious about a subject can put a student in a state where he or she is able to better memorize information on unrelated topics. For example, if you are fascinated by the history of ancient Egypt, but less interested in the geography of the surrounding areas, you may better recall the geographic facts you were taught at the same time you were learning about ancient Egypt. In this way, curiosity turns your brain into a vacuum for all information. The best way to apply this to studying is to study your more challenging or uninteresting subjects in-between studying your favorite subjects. That way, you may experience the boost in learning that comes with studying something you were originally curious about.
3. It is a Cyclical Reward Wystem
As stated above, once you are rewarded for learning (through the release of pleasure neurochemicals), you then are likely to seek out further learning opportunities. When you learn and receive a neural reward, the cycle of “pleasure learning” is further reinforced. If students are exposed to studying what they are truly curious about early on, they are then primed to study and learn more throughout their lifetime. In this way, learning about topics that interest you can serve as a “gateway” experience to other learning opportunities. According to the study of the brain, the new accumulation of positive experiences would elicit both better motivations and better memory.
Memories and motivation are tightly tied to curiosity. Keep in mind that no brain is perfect – of course you won’t always memorize everything that is taught to you, even if you are naturally curious about everything! However, in order to increase your chances of learning, find what interests you, and follow it. It can make all the difference.