Curiosity Engages, Ramps Up and Changes the Brain

Principals Pen Thursday, 03 June 2021

I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious. Albert Einstein

What is curiosity? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, ‘A strong desire to know or learn something.’ Neuroscientist, Charan Ranganath, describes it as, ‘An itch that you have to scratch’.

Scientists are starting to discover the power of curiosity. They are learning that our brain ramps up and changes in ways that help us to better retain information when we have a self-driven thirst for knowledge. Evidence is also indicating that the more curious a person is, the more engaged their brain is.

The achievement gap between high- and low-income households is well documented, yet studies are revealing that curiosity can reduce or even eliminate this gap. Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Michigan, Prachi Shah, writes that curiosity may be an ‘important, yet under-recognised contributor to academic achievement’. In 2018, she published a study, which found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds with a hunger for answers, performed as well as those from affluent homes, thereby closing the achievement gap between high- and low-income households.

Curiosity drives enterprise and action because it can be an unpleasant experience. Essentially, it can result in feelings of discomfort which motivate a student to relentlessly experiment, research and explore, in order to taste the peace and satisfaction of an answer or resolution.

Children tend to come to school filled with curiosity and, at some point in time, they stop asking the question, Why?’. This is not a cause for celebration. In the past, schools have tended to focus more on the accuracy of a student’s answers than the depth of their questions, thereby crushing curiosity. However, in recognition that curiosity is a key element in the learning process, Living Faith values and encourages the wonder and marvel that comes through students’ questions.

A constant ringing in my ears is the words of educational consultant and author, George Couros: ‘If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.’

Learn more about the power of curiosity, and how we can encourage curiosity:

- Jane Mueller, Principal