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16 - Curiosity and Learning

A Neuroscientific Perspective

from Part IV - Curiosity and Boredom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2019

K. Ann Renninger
Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
Suzanne E. Hidi
University of Toronto
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Curiosity – the intrinsic desire to acquire new information – is a key factor for learning and memory in everyday life. To date, there has been very little research on curiosity and, therefore, our understanding of how curiosity impacts learning is relatively poor. In this chapter, we give an overview of psychological theories of curiosity and how initial research has focused on curiosity as a specific personality characteristic (i.e. trait curiosity). We then review recent findings on curiosity emerging in experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Rather than examining trait curiosity, this recent line of research explores how temporary states of curiosity affect cognitive processes. Recent findings suggest that curiosity states elicit activity in the brain's dopaminergic circuit and thereby enhance hippocampus-dependent learning for information associated with high curiosity but also for incidental information encountered during high-curiosity states. We speculate how this new line of curiosity research could help to better understand the mechanisms underlying curiosity-related learning and potentially lead to a fruitful avenue of translating laboratory-based findings on curiosity into educational settings.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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