Curiosity is addictive

I teach medical and graduate students, and I am often struck by the relative lack of curiosity in some of these intelligent young people, all of whom have had highly regarded college and high school careers. (Don’t get me wrong, many of them are fabulously curios!)

One reason I am enthusiastic about Waldorf Education is the emphasis on encouraging curiosity and exploration from a young age. I see the curiosity in my children’s eyes when they recount their experiences at our school.

Why do we value curiosity? One important reason is our intuition (supported by data, and here, here and here) that curiosity leads to discovery, and to better learning achievements. Einstein, for example, once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious”. Indeed, an important viewpoint in the philosophy of education—constructivism—emphasizes curiosity and active learning, much like Waldorf Education.

What drives curiosity? A clue emerges from a brain imaging study whose results suggest that curiosity activates in our brain the same reward centers that are involved in pleasurable anticipation of reward. This suggest that knowledge—the product, or goal of curiosity—is as rewarding to our brain as other pleasurable (hedonic) motivations, such as food, sex and drugs.

It follows, than, that encouraging curiosity is likely a highly effective way to not only improve learning, but also to make learning pleasurable. This is likely a self-reinforcing process, by which curiosity drives learning, that further drives curiosity, and so on.

And this is what I see Waldorf Education doing for my children.


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