Curiosity: A study about babies and ways to learning

This post was contributed by Aline Lorandi, a visiting postdoctoral researcher under the supervision of Prof Annette Karmiloff-Smith, investigating the precursors of phonological awareness in Down Syndrome.

Curiosity is unique to humans. There are many stories and quotes about curiosity in literature and in mythology. Sometimes you can get in trouble because of your curiosity, as Pandora did when she opened the box that she was given by Zeus and discovered what was inside.

Experiments at babylabWe are all curious, but there are some researchers who are curious about curiosity, as Katarina Begus, who talked about “The development of human curiosity: A few baby steps”, during Science Week.

Some researchers have shown that curiosity activates the same areas in the brain as when we consume chocolate, nicotine or when we win a race. If curiosity seems to be linked to pleasure, why is it so difficult to awaken curiosity in some people?

Driven by the curiosity about curiosity, Katarina is investigating curiosity on babies. She maintains that children seem curious about things, and that the universal gesture for showing curiosity about something is pointing. However, how can we know what babies mean by pointing?

Katarina presented a series of tests that aimed to verify in which situations babies point, including informative versus non-informative parents, different kinds of objects, and spontaneous pointing. She also reported that theta oscillation (during EEG/ERP) is found in the hippocampus during situations that involve reward.

The more motivate a child is, the more theta oscillation is found, and, consequently, the greater is his or her learning. Based on this assumption, Katarina invested on tests that can look at brain activation during play, in order to attest whether the babies would recognise some objects that they saw before as a sign of learning and motivation.

When testing learning of nonwords in informative versus non-informative contexts, she found greater theta oscillations in the brain when babies were expecting for information in informative contexts (contrasted to non-informative contexts, where no real information was available).

Although Katarina Begus has already found some very exciting results for how children demonstrate curiosity, her work is still going on, and her curiosity about curiosity never ends:

  • What is the role of technology in our curiosity?
  • How will children explore their curiosity using technology?
  • How the studies about curiosity and learning can help us prevent dementia?

Those were questions that Katarina would like to address in future researches. The audience was also curious, a fact that was shown by the questions made by the end of the talk:

  • How far children go with non-informative teachers?
  • What about their reaction to surprises?
  • What about the effects of surprise on learning?
  • How can we make people more curious?
  • What is the role of the environment on curiosity?

As Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Let’s keep curious!

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