excerpt: “Ranganath’s team discovered that as the students grew curious, activity increased in two brain regions (the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens) that are associated with reward and motivation. The level of curiosity seemed to control activity in these areas like a dimmer switch. During times of great curiosity, these two brain regions were very active. During moments of disinterest or even boredom, these areas shifted into low gear.”
When our curiosity is piqued, learning can be a snap and recalling the new information comes effortlessly. But when it comes to things we don’t care about—the recipe to that “delicious” holiday fruitcake or, if we’re not really into football, the results of this year’s San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl—the new information rarely sticks.
To probe why this might be so, neuroscientists Charan Ranganath and Matthias Gruber, and psychologist Bernard Gelman, all at the University of California at Davis, devised a multi-step experiment to explore which regions of the brain are activated when we are curious, and how curiosity enhances our ability to learn and remember.
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