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“What interests me in life is curiosity, challenges, the good fight with its victories and defeats.”–Paulo Coelho

Welcome back to The Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast where we bridge the gap between theory and practice, with strategies, tools and ideas we can all use immediately, applied to the most current brain research to heighten productivity in our schools, sports environments and modern workplaces. I’m Andrea Samadi and launched this podcast to share how important an understanding of our brain is for our everyday life and results. Like you, I’m interested in learning and applying the research, to our everyday life.

On today’s episode #256 and this week’s Brain Fact Friday, I wanted to take what we learned from Dr. Chantel Prat earlier this week on EP#255[i], and her book The Neuroscience of You[ii], and dive a bit deeper to increase our learning with whatever it is we are interested or curious about.  At the end of our interview with Dr. Prat, I shared how much I learned about myself from reading her book, and how learning inspires me (which is why I am motivated to keep producing podcast episodes that can help all of us take our results to new heights—with what we are learning and applying here, and why I’m always looking to fill in the gaps in with my knowledge). Do you know what I mean here? Have you ever found someone who knows something that you don’t know, (you notice the knowledge gap) and then you were motivated, or even energized to glean their knowledge to enhance your life?

I know that each of us will be curious about something in the world and I’m so grateful that you’ve chosen this podcast to learn from, along with me.

I’m always looking to answer the question “What is it that YOU’RE curious about?” so I can create episodes that are helpful, and Chapter 7 of Dr. Prat’s book dives much deeper into the research behind curiosity and the brain, that I know will help you with whatever it is you are working on, or those you hope to motivate around you, but today, my goal to inspire you, even energize you a bit, when I show you WHAT happens in our brain when we are curious, WHY being curious prepares our brain for learning, and how we can use this to inspire those around us to naturally want to learn more.

On this episode we will learn:

✔ What happens to our brain when we are curious.

✔ Why being curious prepares our brain for learning.

✔ How we can inspire OURSELVES and OTHERS to naturally want to learn more and make learning unforgettable.

Now, just before writing this episode, something caught my eye, and my curiosity was piqued, pulling my attention towards something I found to be interesting. NOTE—this is why it’s important to turn off your phone (or put it away) when you need to focus.  I didn’t do this, and my eye was caught by an ad that was right in line with my area of interest (which is a whole other story how we are all targeted daily to buy things based on what we search for on the internet, or even what we are talking about)  but this ad drew me to a class from Former Special FBI Agent John Douglas (where the Netflix series MindHunter[iii] was created based on his work, and his book MindHunter[iv]). This class, called How to Think Like an FBI Profiler[v] changed how I saw this week’s Brain Fact Friday and I’m grateful that I had a chance to learn something new from being curious. On today’s episode I not only want to cover the psychology and neuroscience of curiosity, and how we can use this trait to improve our learning, but I want to do this through the eyes of an FBI Profiler and what my curiosity helped me to learn.  Former Special Agent John Douglas (and his masterclass) taught me many tips for becoming a MindHunter and recognize the signs of bad people, or ways to avoid violent criminals, but for this week’s Brain Fact Friday, I want to focus on how to use our curious mind to understand ourselves better, with our brain in mind, by profiling OURSELVES first. Once we have a solid understanding of WHO we are, how our own brains are wired, and what drives us to perform on a daily basis, then we can extend our knowledge to improve our understanding of others we live with, work with, or interact with. Like Dr. Prat’s book said, it all begins with “The Neuroscience of You.”

So for this week’s Brain Fact Friday, it’s about YOU.

DID YOU KNOW that “curiosity is a mental state that both precedes and facilitates learning? Put simply, curiosity is the subjective feeling one gets when their brain wants to take in a piece of information in front of them. As a result, the more curious you feel in any given situation, the more prepared your brain is to remember what happens next.” (Chantel Prat, The Neuroscience of You).

“When you explore, and satisfy your curiosity, your brain floods your body with dopamine, which makes you feel happier”[vi] and Mattias Gruber tells us in his TED Talk that “current research says it’s not only intellect that predicts academic achievement, but our levels of curiosity that predict success in school.”[vii]

DID YOU ALSO KNOW “that when we are curious, 2 parts of the brain light up (our midbrain and nucleus accumbens)” (Dr. Gruber)  and these are the SAME areas that light up when we anticipate a reward, like food or money? Dr. Gruber says this is the brain’s “wanting” system which is another way to look at why being curious motivates us to want to learn, driving us to study, persevere and seek new information.

Dr. Prat wrote about Dr. Gruber’s work in her book. She said that “according to the Prediction, Appraisal, Curiosity  and Exploration (PACE) Framework recently developed by Matthias Gruber and his former mentor, your curiosity in any given situation depends on what you already know about the world….(and that) your curiosity gets piqued when something either surprises you based on what you thought you knew, or because you experienced a knowledge gap—a type of mental conflict that occurs when you need more information before deciding what to do in a given situation.” Prat elaborates with what curiosity looks like in the brain by saying that

I interpret this to mean that our brain thinks that what we are learning, eventually will lead to something rewarding, and it releases dopamine to keep us motivated to learn whatever it is we’ve deemed to be important, or this thing we are curious about. I think this is a HUGE discovery when it comes to understanding our brain and learning.

So how can we inspire curiosity in those around us (those we are teaching, or coaching) or even those we live with and interact with to inspire learning?

  • Think Like an FBI Profiler, and Profile Yourself: Or keep studying, learning and improving your knowledge of yourself. Do you know how you learn best? Not just your learning style, but Dr. Prat’s book covers reinforcement learning, and how some people learn equally as well from when things go better than expected or from disappointing things. Some people she says are “carrot learners” and move through life with their brain strengthening the connections between good actions and the context they were in, and some people are “stick learners” or avoiders and move through life avoiding disappointing situations. Once we know how we learn best, it’s much easier to take this knowledge and apply it to how others learn best.
  • Build Lessons Around What Your Students Are ALREADY Interested In: The research did show that “curiosity increases learning and acts like a vortex that draws in what you’re interested to learn and also sucks in a lot of things around it” so if you are creating lessons for your students, tie in something you know they are already interested in learning, the new information you want to teach, and it will better chance of being remembered. This is exactly what happened to me when I sat down to write this episode, and got sucked like a vortex into taking the How to Think Like an FBI Profiler course. We had already been talking about Theory of Mind with Dr. Prat, (what I already know about the world) so I naturally wondered what else could I learn from a pioneer in criminal profiling. Nothing could have ripped me away from listening to this course, and filling in my knowledge gaps.  Do you know what are your students interested in? How can you fill in their knowledge gaps and make your lessons stick? Tie this concept into what you are teaching it will make learning unforgettable for those you’ve connected with at this deep, brain level.

To review this week’s Brain Fact Friday,

DID YOU KNOW that “curiosity is a mental state that both precedes and facilitates learning?” (Dr. Prat)

DID YOU ALSO KNOW “that when we are curious, two parts of the brain light up (our midbrain and nucleus accumbens)” (Dr. Gruber) and these are the SAME areas that light up when we anticipate a reward, like food or money?

Curiosity energizes us by tapping into the brain’s “Wanting System” urging us to want to go out and seek new information. So, if we want learning to stick for our students, piquing their curiosity is one way, that brain research says will do this, inspiring learning, so it’s unforgettable.

After writing this episode, I wonder, what made you curious to learn more?

Once you know this, you have a powerful “secret” that you can use for yourself and others.

I’ll see you next week!


[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #255 with Dr. Chantel Prat, on “The Neuroscience of You: How Every Brain is Wired Differently and How to Understand Yours”

[ii] The Neuroscience of You: How Every Brain is Different and How to Understand Yours by Chantel Pratt, Ph.D published August 2, 2022

[iii] Netflix Series Mindhunter

[iv] MindHunter: Inside the Elite Serial Crime Init by John Douglas Published November 26, 1998

[v] How to Think Like an FBI Profiler by Former Special FBI Agent John Douglas

[vi] The Science of Curiosity,curiosity%20again%20in%20the%20future.

[vii]This is Your Brain on Curiosity | Matthias Gruber | TEDxUCDavisSalon