CURIOSITY PROMOTES LEARNING
A teaser trailer for the new Star Wars movie came out recently, sending fans of the series, including my 3-year old, Emperor-obsessed niece, into a frenzy. The trailer is roughly 90 seconds long and provides very little information about the movie’s plot, but that hasn’t stopped people from analyzing it to death. The trailer is designed to only pique our curiosity and leave us wanting more, at which it’s been quite successful.
Curiosity is a fascinating mental state in which little has been studied. However, new research demonstrates the neurological mechanisms of curiosity and explores how curiosity impacts learning. One study, which coincidentally has the least curiosity-inducing title ever (“States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit”), finds that people are not only more likely to remember the information that made them curious, but also more likely to remember incidental information given while they are in a state of heightened curiosity.
This research also examines the neurological mechanisms of curiosity. As it turns out, curiosity causes a release of dopamine in the brain, which is both rewarding and facilitates long-term memory. It appears that we get intrinsic pleasure from being curious, which may explain why jurors tend to gravitate toward the interesting or unknown aspects of a case. I’ve written before about the impact of curiosity in litigation – specifically, about how unknowns in your trial narrative may cause curious jurors to attempt to fill gaps in the narrative on their own. New science suggests that jurors will not only attempt to formulate a complete story, but their best memories will be for information presented during moments of heightened curiosity.
The findings of the impact of curiosity on learning and memory are particularly relevant to litigators and their jury strategy. In our experience, jurors retain a very small percentage of the information presented during trial. These tend to be interesting pieces of information – for instance, jurors are less likely to remember the nuances of a contract than they are to remember a clandestine meeting where a CEO attempts to poach a competitor’s top employee. One of the greatest benefits of conducting mock trials is the opportunity to learn more about what piques jurors’ curiosity. Given the latest neuroscience on curiosity, information that jurors crave, along with tangential information presented in close succession, will be most memorable.
 Gruber, M., Gelman, B., & Ranganath, C. (2014). States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. Neuron, Volume 84, 486 – 496.