Curiosity makes you look forward to learning, improves the memory process and turns learning into a pleasant activity.
Curiosity is a hunger for learning
When hunger strikes it turns on the brain reward circuit. Our body detects the shortage of nutrients and initiates the hungry feeling. In that moment, it is necessary to satisfy it. When we eat, the brain reward circuit secretes dopamin and we feel good. So next time we feel hunger we will now exactly what to do to restore our well-beign: eat.
The brain reward circuit (BRC) was made to ensure our existence not just as individuals but also as species, because along with hunger and thirst our BRC is liable for the sexual response. When we have a vital need the circuit “kidnaps” us and distract our atention to food, water or sex.
Dopamine is very important in this system. It triggers desire and a craving for reward, setting off our motivation.
Dr. Matthias Gruber from the University of California has discovered thar curiosity, like hunger, triggers the brain reward circuit. When we are curious, learning becomes pleasant, something that our brain will try to repeat. It´s not uncommon that we speak about a “hunger for knowledge”, because that´s precisely what curiosity provokes.
Our brain has placed the learning mechanism exactly in the same exact place where we find the control of the activities upon which our survival depends. Nature´s message is clear: Learning guarantees our survival as individuals and species.
Dr. Gruber discovered that when we experience curiosity the BRC secretes dopamine… and the activity in the hippocampus is increased. That part of our brain is related to memory, so it improves our capacity to remember what we are learning in that moment. That is why we learn so fast when we learn somethig interesting.
But the most unnexpected result of that experiment was the demostration that curiosity not only enhances our capacity to learn what you are interested in, but everything that surrounds you in that very moment: sounds, faces, environment and everything that comes through our senses. Curiosity is more of a state than simply a drive; a state that makes us more aware about the world that surround us.
Curiosity generates profit
In the actual economic environment, life-long learning has become a competitive advantage. Having a barchelor and master´s degree and speaking different languages when you are twenty-five years old can open you doors in the job market, but to keep on and grow you have to adapt and expand your knowledge and skills. Otherwise you will be out of date. The most competitive companies know the relationship between life-long learning and productivity. Tom Peters, the famous guru of management, devotes 80% of his time to investigation and learning and 20% to writing, speaking at conferences and management. 80% preparation, 20% execution. And he has not done badly!
Life long learning is fundamental to companies and people. Curiosity is the key to expanding your learning skill. Growing curiosity among our staff will therefore increase our competitiveness.
But, can we make curiosity grow in a person or a team? How? The answer to the first question is yes. For the second question there are different solutions.
How to awaken curiosity
1. The new and the unexpected. In the sixties, Daniel Berlyne developed the concept of perceptual curiosity. There are perceptual stimulus that suddenly grans our attention. The new, like the first iPhone, or the unexpected, like an elephant in the middle of the city, turns our curiosity on.
Showing the learning material from a brand new perspective or with unexpected media produces fantastic outcomes.
2. Information gap. Lowenstein developed this theory in 1994. You can instigate curiosity when you give incomplete information. Naturaly, human beigns try to fill the gaps until we have a complete picture or idea. That´s why puzzles or word searches are so addictive. Lowenstein also proved that the closer the answer is, the bigger the curiosity.
When we want to remember the name of a person and we have it on the tip of the tongue it´s nearly impossible to give up. We try until we got it! Curiosity wins.
3. Information´s Significance. When companies ask their employees to learn a skill or knowledge, or a school or university demand their students to do so, the best practice is to tell the people why it is important. Curiosity grows when something is important, specially when it´s important for us. That´s why kids are not interested about interest rate or mortgages. It´s not a direct concern for them. But the parents pay attention, because it´s important for their finances.
4. Information´s usefulness. Can I apply this knowledge or skill to something valuable? An aeronautical engineer will read a book about aerodynamics with more atention than a Latin book. (At least in a majority of the cases). He can apply the first book to his work, but not the second.
5. A story. We are social animals and all information about others inmediatly awakens our curiosity. We love tales, real or imaginary. That´s why we have movies, books, theater and gossip. Learning is more effective when instead of data, there are people, their motivations and the relationships between them. When we remember the concept of gravity, we can imagine Newton sitting under the tree and the apple falling. But only a few can write the formula.
If you want somebody to learn something, don´t give him a 500-page book. Wake up his curiosity.