“I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein
What happens to our brains when we explore? When we are in a state of curiosity and motivated to discover, reduce uncertainty, enquire or investigate, scientific research tells us that our brains light up!
Multiple studies demonstrate this when researchers monitor brain activity using an MRI machine. When the participants’ curiosity is piqued, the parts of their brains that regulate pleasure and reward light up. Curious minds show an increased activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in the creation of memories. Curiosity sort of warms up the brain, triggers the hippocampus to release dopamine, activates the brain’s reward system, and ups our motivation as well as capacity to learn. The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning. If we care about knowing something, we’re more apt to remember it.
Infants, children, and even puppies are delightful bundles of constant energy endeavoring to discover. Curiosity levels are high in children because there is so much to learn about the world. Most parents know it can take a long time to get somewhere in a hurry with a young child afoot. What seems mundane to adults like rocks, dirt, cracks in the sidewalk, an insect, a discarded half-eaten sandwich or even the possibility of a new playmate can all captivate the inquiring young mind and thwart a perfectly timed schedule. Children’s curiosity also manifests itself in the seemingly endless barrage of questioning that always begins with “why, why, why” and ends up being difficult to answer or better saved for a more appropriate age.
As we age, gaining knowledge and experience, we become more certain and our inclination to explore declines. Interestingly, studies show that seniors with high levels of curiosity have lower mortality rates. Curiosity is linked to factors that help us live longer: building stronger relationships, promoting happiness, overcoming anxiety, finding life purpose, and acquiring intelligence. Thankfully, cultivating curiosity is among a handful of accessible practices shown to preserve mental functioning. Becoming childlike again in our desire to discover and explore our world brings benefits that enhance our lives, health, social fabric, and knowledge.
As we progress through our lives we can “choose” to wonder, explore, investigate, know, discover, or simply seek to remove uncertainty. Regardless of where we are along the life path, one thing is for certain- we will never know it all! We can challenge ourselves even in the most mundane situations and environments to find someTHING, someONE, or someWHERE to be curious about and explore the never-ending possibilities.
Whether it’s utilizing podcasts, YouTube videos, Ted Talks, news articles, or learning a new game, LifeShare is a tool that provides an ever expanding on-demand content for seniors, families, and staff that easily facilitate exploring and curiosity. So go ahead and “light brains up!”