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What is curiosity?

Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to learn or know something. The information gap theory of curiosity suggests that curiosity comes when we feel a gap between what we know and what we want to know. It feels like a ‘mental itch that can only be scratched through new knowledge’.

What happens in the brain when we are curious?

Emerging evidence suggests that the mental state of curiosity literally changes the chemistry of the brain, improving our memory and learning capabilities as a result. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) found that higher levels of curiosity corresponded with greater activity in the hippocampus (involved in the creation of memories), the ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens (both involved in regulating the sensation of pleasure and reward), and the caudate (which sits at an intersection between new knowledge and positive emotions).

Basically, it feels good to be curious as our brain releases dopamine which gives us a high. Dopamine also happens to help us learn better as it plays a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning. So not only does curiosity motivate us to learn something in the first place, it actually improves our ability to learn it as well. Albert Einstein was clearly on to something when he said: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

What can we take from this?

The bottom line is, if we want someone to remember something, we should pique their interest first. By sparking a sense of curiosity, they will be more likely to engage in the process in the short term, and retain the information in the long run. Something to keep in mind as a strategy for your next staff meeting…