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Curiosity, learning and memory

Curious children. Children's curiosity

They say that curiosity killed the cat, but it is a great ally of the human brain

Why is the sky blue? Who is that woman, what is her name, what does she do, where does she live, what are her interests? The seed of discoveries (scientific and mundane) has been curiosity. Without being geniuses, we can learn and remember much more if our motivation is curiosity, according to the results of a recent study from the University of California.

Surely, you have ever had a child between two and five years old nearby (even at home) and you have been surprised by the number of times children ask why this or why that? Dr. Mattias Gruber and his colleagues at the Neuroscience Center at the University of California, Davis, have found that this same attitude of curiosity in adulthood greatly benefits learning ability, even remembering incidental information.

A question of good or bad memory?

The functioning of memory is fascinating for any student of Psychology and Neurology. There are different categories to classify memory: active, operational, emotional, etc. Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence defines these three categories. The first is the ability to retain in mind all the information that pertains to the task we are performing; The second is the attention capacity that takes into account the essential data to complete a given problem or tasks; The third is the one reserved for experiences that are “stored” in the amygdala (a part of the brain) and that are even acquired before language develops and that are activated unconsciously, when perception registers that one is faced with this or that situation.

Emotional memory reveals a range of opportunities. For example, intelligence understood as the performance of cognitive activities is not necessarily related to emotional intelligence. That is, a person can perform excellently on a math test and have serious difficulties deciding whether or not to go on a date that could be romantic.

On the other hand, this emotional factor makes it possible that our attitude can also modify our cognitive learning capacity. This is precisely what the previously mentioned study refers to. In the study published online in Neuron by Dr. Gruber, people showed that when they were very curious about topics, they also retained both essential and incidental information.

This finding could be completely revolutionary in generating much more effective school environments by presenting subjects from a perspective that promotes curiosity. In addition, it could also mean a breakthrough among older adults, who are prone to memory loss as a result of aging.

What improves and what affects memory?

There are some factors that promote healthy memory. Regardless of whether from time to time you can't remember where you left your keys, you see a face and know you know it but you can't locate its name, or you forget that you told the same story twice to the same person—incidentally, those symptoms are completely normal and common among young and old adults—there are a series of practical recommendations that help keep your memory in shape, so to speak.

Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, from the Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, United States, has been discovering factors that promote memory. These are some of the ones he recommends:

  • Reading, writing, watching movies, plays, playing board games, book clubs, knitting, crafts, art. All activities that present us with challenges, exercise our imagination, creativity and intellect are completely recommended to expand our beliefs and we will learn new things!
  • Social support networks are essential to feel motivated; Isolation is a risk factor for depression and stress, the consequences of which are usually memory loss.
  • Balanced diet: which includes the daily consumption of five servings of fruits and vegetables, cereals, proteins and carbohydrates.
  • Exercising also helps with oxygenation and good brain function in general, so walking, running, swimming, playing tennis or any sport will be a source of health for your memory.
  • Get organized: there is no better remedy for losing objects in the house than creating a routine of fixed places for things: hanging the keys near the door, assigning drawers for payment receipts, leaving glasses on the bureau, etc. The idea is to generate habits that, through habit, save time and help us find those everyday objects that we frequently lose.

Now, there are factors that put our learning ability and, therefore, our memory at risk.

  • Lack of exercise
  • Drug use (including marijuana)
  • Isolation

Don't get caught on a curve, pay attention

There are some conditions related to memory loss that occur mainly in older adults, since with advancing age there are certain habits that promote isolation, nutritional decompensation, etc. Below we mention some:

  • Mild cognitive impairment: these are the symptoms of forgetfulness that are considered normal but that, due to their frequency or because they worsen over time, are considered indicators of mild cognitive impairment. Going to the doctor at this stage can help a lot in preventing memory loss and more complicated diseases such as those listed below:
  • Alzheimer's: A disease in which the loss of brain function worsens over time. There are specific alerts that tell us that we should go to the doctor immediately, however, not knowing what a spoon is used for while eating or not recognizing your house being on the same block are signs that you should consult a health specialist. immediate.
  • Dementia: This is the deterioration of mental functions, of which memory and learning are only a part. This condition can lead to the loss of language, perception, even the total loss of identity and control of physical faculties. Disorientation, lack of concentration on tasks that require intellectual abilities, sudden mood changes, among others, are symptoms that require evaluation by a specialist.

Learn to look with new eyes

“A newborn will keep his gaze focused on novel objects longer than on familiar ones, exhibiting evidence of both memory and preference for the new (Friedman, 1975), Goleman states. Which in some way guides us towards learning to look for the new even in what we consider known. It is even very helpful to think of that childhood curiosity as a resource to refresh our vision when facing activities that apparently no longer have anything to contribute to us.

“From four to twelve years of age there is a growing interest in observing and listening to new material; In the course of development, one is continually faced with new experiences. At the same time as appreciating the familiar (friends and family, places and activities), one often feels attracted to the novel (Nunnally and Lemond, 1973; Rheingold, 1985, and Sluckin et al. 1983ª). As one encounters the new, mental frameworks break down and others appear, developing mental competence, a central element of Jean Piaget's thinking," says Linda L. Davidoff, pointing out the relevance of the study by Dr. Mattias Gruber and his colleagues. from the University of California.

In other words, regardless of our age, we can always learn new things as long as we maintain motivation. And that curiosity will not only make us learn more, but also make us retain more of what we learn.


"Because prevention is better than cure"

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