Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

It's Not Just How Smart You Are: Curiosity Is Key To Learning 83

Scientific American reports that a UC Davis study (paywalled) on how learning interacts with curiosity indicates that curiosity can lead to demonstrably better recall. From the SciAm article: Neuroscientist Charan Ranganath and his fellow researchers asked 19 participants to review more than 100 questions, rating each in terms of how curious they were about the answer. Next, each subject revisited 112 of the questions—half of which strongly intrigued them whereas the rest they found uninteresting—while the researchers scanned their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During the scanning session participants would view a question then wait 14 seconds and view a photograph of a face totally unrelated to the trivia before seeing the answer. Afterward the researchers tested participants to see how well they could recall and retain both the trivia answers and the faces they had seen. Ranganath and his colleagues discovered that greater interest in a question would predict not only better memory for the answer but also for the unrelated face that had preceded it. A follow-up test one day later found the same results—people could better remember a face if it had been preceded by an intriguing question. Somehow curiosity could prepare the brain for learning and long-term memory more broadly."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

It's Not Just How Smart You Are: Curiosity Is Key To Learning

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What does this button do?

    • doing. From the description above: " Ranganath and his colleagues discovered that greater interest in a question would predict not only better memory for the answer but also for the unrelated face that had preceded it." But the following sentence (and the experimental protocol) state that the face followed (not preceded) the question. So someone was not paying attention. Is it any wonder that non-scientists are confused and bored by rubbish such as this? In the words of Yoda.....

  • by Selur ( 2745445 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @01:37AM (#48061405)

    Isn't this some of those things that kind of is a 'given' ?
    Curiosity leads to motivation, stuff you do in an unmotivated or bored state never come out well and (thankfully) will not be remembered.

    • by penix1 ( 722987 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @02:19AM (#48061521) Homepage

      Curiosity leads to motivation, stuff you do in an unmotivated or bored state never come out well and (thankfully) will not be remembered.

      Actually, I believe it isn't curiosity that was tested. I believe it was interest. Interest != curiosity. Curiosity would involve something the subject didn't know. Interest is something totally different since it relies on a topic the subject already has some familiarity with.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )
        Even more than interest I assume they really tested attention. When you are focused and paying attention you remember things, when your mind is wandering the memory was never formed.
        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          I have A.D.D., and after taking medication, I can be focused on almost anything. While I can much better remember something that I am focused, if I am interested in something, I will have dreams about it and my subconscious will join in on the fun. The more interested I am in a subject, the more I think about it and the more ideas come into my head. The more ideas I have about something, the better those ideas are networked in my brain, enhancing my ability to remember them.

          I have a bad memory for most th
      • by mothlos ( 832302 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @08:21AM (#48062289)

        This is yet another issue of lay definitions not lining up with definitions used by researchers. Curisotiy in this case is probably best understod as internally motivated and sustained interest compared to interest from external sources.

      • by mpe ( 36238 )
        Actually, I believe it isn't curiosity that was tested. I believe it was interest. Interest != curiosity. Curiosity would involve something the subject didn't know. Interest is something totally different since it relies on a topic the subject already has some familiarity with.

        Actually "curiosity" might still be the best term. Since it can be independent of how much knowlage of a subject someone currently has.
        It's also important that this is subject specific and follows that person's own definition of the
      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        Interest requires that you are aware of a subject, but not fully knowledge in it. You can still be curious about something that you are interested in. You may say that interest is a requirement for curiosity. Curiosity is more like an active form of interest, as it implies a certain amount of action towards something you are interested.
    • by blue_teeth ( 83171 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @02:27AM (#48061539)

      Energy > Interest > Curiosity > Learning

      Passive entertainment > Lethargy > Energy Drain

      Suggest reading a short essay "On Thinking for Oneself" by Arthur Schopenhauer.

    • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @03:02AM (#48061611)

      Isn't this some of those things that kind of is a 'given' ?

      Of course it is. For some reason, all popular science articles try to spin everything as 'A Great, New Discovery'. Scientific research is almost always about checking and measuring the details in the big picture we already know - that is why they keep measuring the gravitational constant, the speed of light etc. And the other side of the coin is the scientific method: you state a theory, then test its predictions. In this case the farily obvious seeming prediction, that curiosity makes you better at learning. In fact, this is not quite as trivial as it may sound: curiosity makes you want to learn, but does your objective ability to learn increase measurably?

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Well it was about remembering a photo so I'd say it's more about recall than learning, which definitely is under conscious control. Imagine the following three scenarios:

        1) You show the subjects what you tell them is an instruction video about the test. Then a surprise pop quiz on details of the video (no motivation)
        2) You show the subjects the same video, after telling them there'll be a pop quiz afterwards (external motivation) but no consequences or rewards.
        3) You show the subjects the same video, after

        • by Livius ( 318358 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @08:48AM (#48062399)

          Sadly what I take away from this is mainly the effectiveness of having a 15 second ad before a YouTube video, as long as you're interested in what's coming chances are good you'll remember the unrelated ad in front of it too.

          Even more sadly, that might have been the real purpose.

        • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

          Well it was about remembering a photo so I'd say it's more about recall than learning

          Indeed; I was always terrible at memorization, but when I learned a thing, I KNEW that thing. Memorizing Ohm's Law doesn't mean you know what it means. Understanding is far more than memorization.

          • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
            "I don't know what's the matter with people: they don't learn by understanding; they learn by some other way--by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!"
    • Isn't this just a debate of the meaning of words when considering the actions of an extremely small sample? It could be argued motivation leads to curiosity - maybe someone needs to get a job (motivation) and they wonder whether (curiosity) thet would be able to learn some skills that would enable them to get one. I would suggest it's subbstantively about volition in learning. A motivated learner will be successful if given sufficient resources, time, environment etc. whereas an unmotivated person will
    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      Very obviously curiosity and motivation are parts of learning, but I think it was interesting the way they set up the experiment to try to establish curiosity as an independent variable and that they were able to make quantitative measurements.

      I'm not convinced that *what* they were measuring was really curiosity in any meaningful sense, as opposed to what some other submitters have suggested - attention, focus, anticipation, etc. - but I give them credit for trying.

    • by mothlos ( 832302 )

      Unfortunately, not. Educational theory is a highly divided and conservative field. There are still plenty of educators who doggedly believe that students learn by behaviorist incentive motivation (carrots and sticks) and that students are blank slates. The idea that education should consider and perhaps even change in response to the internal motivations of students is an idea which has been around for decades, but has continued to be slow to catch on. Perhaps research like this, as limited in its scope as

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      My reaction was "well DUH!" as well. This is simply scientific confirmation of the obvious. Now, had the study stated that curiosity had no effect on learning, that would have been a startling finding.

      But that's how science works; something that is blindingly obvious is often disproven. In this case it wasn't.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Curiosity and enthusiasm for your work and an ability to learn? No, you're not a quality hire. We have a culture of mindless ignorant drudgery here. We don't need any free-thinking terrorists on our team.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Unfortunately, while you doubtlessly tried to be funny, you comment is spot-on for quite a bit of the corporate world. People that actually understand things have this tendency to "rock the boat", e.g. by pointing it out when management has (again) made some utterly stupid decisions.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I would say that curiosity is one of the components ot "being smart" and as such, yes, it is just about how smart you are.

  • Too bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fabioalcor ( 1663783 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @02:14AM (#48061507)

    Most schools makes sure to kill curiosity in its nest.

    • My dog never went to school, maybe that's why he's so curious about everything passing in front of our house.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Curious people make bad little corporate solders and bad obedient citizens. Hence school makes sure to bring them in line as early as possible. The few really smart people society needs to survive still make it through. But these are a lot less than you would think. For example, the average professor is not very smart and decidedly not a scientist.

  • by Jacob A. Munoz ( 3611379 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @02:42AM (#48061567)
    I just wanted to get the test over with and move on to something interesting and worth remembering. Now we have an official report to prove the self-evident. meanwhile - we cancel art, music, electronics, workshop, anything a student would really want to learn. How about combine music. electronics, and math into a short but immersive synthesizer course. They don't have to build anything huge - but they could physically see what all this algebra and electrical stuff means by hearing it, something worth remembering. A biology/art/science course growing plants? Workshop and physics combined into so many possible ways? - no, we just cancel these sorts of things and impose a standardized testing routine with no experimentation. Poor kids, I heard some elementary schools got rid of recess too. Tragic.
  • Of course the didn't calibrate for knowledge.

    You're not going to be curious about an answer to a question if you already know the answer.
    You're not going to be interested in something if you don't know what it is.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      I hope that the interesting versus boring questions were customized for each participant, otherwise the results would be completely useless. Curiosity is a property of the person, not the question.

      • I hope that the interesting versus boring questions were customized for each participant, otherwise the results would be completely useless. Curiosity is a property of the person, not the question.

        That'd get them the FMRI results they wanted, but it's unlikely to give them statistically valid, publishable, double-blinded results...

  • Curiosity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @04:33AM (#48061783) Homepage

    I'm not sure that curiosity or intrigue is some property that you can just "put" into a question, as the summary suggests.

    Curiosity is so-obviously a huge factor in interest, but it's something that is - at least in part - inherent in a personality, not a question. You can ask the most wonderfully "intriguing" question of someone but if they have no interest, no desire to know, then it's not going to spark their interest. At best, they'll think there's more to the question, then be disappointed at the "trick".

    As someone who works in schools (including private schools), curiosity is actually quite a rare trait. Most students just aren't interested in what their learning because it is - to the most part - not something they want to learn. They get forced to.

    And the bright ones will FIND something intriguing about the most dull of subjects. I was always more fascinated by mathematics, and trying computer science to mathematics, and science to mathematics, and even graphic design to mathematics (the golden ratio, etc.) made it more interesting to me. This is the geek's main skill and the source of their brain power - the interest they can find in the most mundane of subjects.

    The students that stand out have an unquenchable curiosity about the most mundane of things. They suck the knowledge from their teachers until they run dry and then move on to the next source.

    I work in IT in schools - I'm not a teacher - but I had a student just last term who realised that I actually knew some things that his teachers didn't know (C programming, basic electronics, etc.). His curiosity ran riot and he did everything he could to learn more and schedule time that I could show him things (I'm not a teacher, but the school are really good about focusing on the student, so they allowed it). Hell, I took him into the science lab and showed him how to solder circuits because NOBODY had ever shown him how to do it.

    This is a young adult that's since gone to an exclusive private school with the best teachers and resources in the world but because soldering was "new" to him, he took it on and within a couple of hours was proficient in it. It piqued his interest, so he didn't let it rest. Did I make it interesting? Did I come up with some link to other subjects he enjoyed? Did I make up stories about the history of soldering to make it more interesting? No.

    Curiosity is a trait to instil in your child, at all costs. Not through trick questions, not through forcing them but to just get them to question and - when they do - answer. I can't tell you the number of teachers and parents I see say "I don't know" to a child's question and leave it at that. Or "it's too hard for you". Or even "Shut up, we need to do this next bit".

    Instil curiosity by making curiosity the norm. "Well, how does it do that, do you think? I've no idea myself, son. Let's go find out, shall we? Shall we ask that guy that's running the machine?".

    Curiosity is the driver here. It's not something you can make happen, it's certainly not something that you can get into a kid by rewording a question - but it's something you can encourage, by asking questions that all the other adults never bother to ask, and never bother to answer either.

    • And the bright ones will FIND something intriguing about the most dull of subjects.

      That you even noticed that is great! Not so many people, even that deal with the school atmosphere for years are able to notice that (maybe they act in that direction, but they're not conscious of what they're doing). And so in saying that, you show that you have a real interest in children's learning. Getting to know the kids' interests, and introducing them into the current curriculum, even if just for that one or two students, can drastically improve their "ability to learn".

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      "And the bright ones will FIND something intriguing about the most dull of subjects."

      I think that's a good point. The difference between poor teaching and good teaching may be whether it encourages finding interest this way, even in "dull" stuff like rote-learned subjects. I had almost all good teachers all the way through school.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Neuroscientist Charan Ranganath and his fellow researchers asked 19 participants ...

    Do we need to look any further? 19 participants !?!

    Why do we continually get in a froth over things that wouldn't count as preliminary results in the real world? 19 participants ?!?

    Come back when you've conducted *real* research on a *statistically significant* number of test subjects. 19 participants !?!

    Oh, and in case you missed it ... 19 PARTICIPANTS!?!?!

  • by fygment ( 444210 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @08:19AM (#48062285)

    ... Really? This wasn't suspected, hadn't been demonstrated a million times over? Wow, curiousity an important factor in learning?! Who knew? OH, EVERYONE!

    Sadly, there are some real researchers who still aren't funded.

    • ... Really? This wasn't suspected, hadn't been demonstrated a million times over? Wow, curiousity an important factor in learning?! Who knew? OH, EVERYONE!

      Sadly, there are some real researchers who still aren't funded.

      I'm seeing a lot of posts like yours, and you're all missing the point. Of course interest and curiosity in a subject helps learning within that field. The interesting part about this study is that when you're brain is in that state, you're better at learning about unrelated subjects that you have no interest in. The point isn't that people remembered the trivia questions they were interested in better, it's that they remembered the unrelated faces better.

      I experience this myself in a weird way. I have

  • Already known (Score:5, Interesting)

    by towermac ( 752159 ) on Saturday October 04, 2014 @08:41AM (#48062351)

    "Curiosity is more important than knowledge." - Albert Einstein

    My advice: Don't waste a lot of time studying things that are already known to be true. (Pretty much everything he said, I take at face value.)

    • by koan ( 80826 )

      I do as well, I think he tended to keep his mouth shut until there was something to be said.

      My fav (because... yes, I am cynical)

      “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”
        Albert Einstein

  • Curiosity is synonymous with interest, if you aren't interested in a subject you don't apply the same effort.

"God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh." - Voltaire

Working...