Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Curiosity and the Mind
"Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last." - Samuel Johnson
We are not all equally curious, what research there is, suggests that while curiosity can be inherited as a stable personality trait, it can also be manipulated by external means.
Daniel Berlyne was one of the earliest researchers in the science of curiosity, and he divided exploratory behavior into two types: one that sought relief from boredom and another that was more goal-directed or epistemic - "the brand of arousal that motivates the quest for knowledge and is relieved when knowledge is procured." It this type of curiosity that can be particularly valuable to awaken for creative achievement.
The biology of curiosity is still in its infant stages, but from curious researchers at Cal Tech, we have our first view of what curiosity might look like on fMRI.
It turns out the caudate / striatum is a particularly important area that gets activated when Cal Tech students read a list of trivia questions and found questions that particularly piqued their interest (BTW, the researchers also found that when students were tested later, they did remember best the questions that they had indicated they were most curious about...). For more on this study, see Neural Correlates of Curiosity pdf
The caudate shouldn't surprise us too much if we know a little about neurological diseases (after all in neurological conditions such as Parkinson's or Huntington's disease, injury to the caudate results in apathy), but should also ring a few alarm bells because the caudate has also been implicated in the pathology of ADHD. We know that curiosity often correlates with creativity and even general intelligence but lets face it, it can also be a nuisance and a distraction. Intensely curious kids can cause plenty of havoc in a conventional classroom. They may be selfish in their pursuit of their own interests, resist transitions, and be inattentive to all but their own interests. Is this the same as oppositional defiant or attention deficit disorder? Not really. But there are things that can be done to help them get along better with the world.
If you're curious about the effects of stimulants on the caudate and striatum, they do indeed change chemistry there - and that could account for some of their favorable behavioral effects. But, what is more worrisome is recent discovery of more long-term toxic effects of stimulants on the caudate / striatum. These medication have been well-recognized as having a neurotoxic potential; what is new, is that researchers have now observed injurious effects at levels used in standard medicine doses. It would be a terrible trade-off to cause long-term effects on reward and curiosity for short-term effects on compliance and behavior.
As far as tips go for enhancing your own or your kids' curious minds. Here are some that we have gleaned from our reading:
- Find time to reflect on questions and contradictions.
- Reframe boredom.
- Don't let fear or anxiety keep you from doing something new.
- Pursue your passions and gifts.
A final quote on curiosity: "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." - Albert Einstein
Using Instructional Design Strategies To Foster Curiosity
Flow Motivation as Gifted Thinking
Better living through creativity - interview with Bose
Neural Correlates of Curiosity Supp Info
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Motivation and Memory
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Teens, 20's, and Rewards
Impulsivity, ADHD, and Reward
Curiosity and Motivation to Learn pdf
Alice in Wonderland "Curiouser and curiouser!"
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