From the Lab: Curiosity Primed the Memory

In The Science of Speaking, I note that one of the most effective ways of interesting your audience is to find ways to arouse their curiosity. A recent study at UC Davis, reported by Scientific American, expands on this idea even further, finding that not only will curiosity make it more likely for your audience to pay attention to your message: it will also make it more likely they’ll remember it.

In the study, participants were asked to review a variety of trivia questions and rate how curious they were about the answers. Next, they were presented with a subset of these questions—half that they found interesting, and half that they found uninteresting. Shortly after each question was presented, participants viewed the photograph of a face that was unrelated to the question, and then saw the answer. A little while later, participants were tested to see how well they recalled both the answers, and the faces.

Interestingly, greater curiosity about a question led not only to better recall of the answer to that question, but also better recall of the unrelated picture that preceded it. A follow-up test the next day found the same results: a curious brain is better able to recall not only that which it is curious about, but also unrelated information that’s presented in that curious state. It appears that curiosity primes the brain for learning.

As a speaker, you can use this knowledge to good effect. As you’re crafting your presentations, think of ways you can arouse your audience’s curiosity: the easiest way to do this is simply to ask an interesting questions that your audience doesn’t know the answers to (but will want to). Then, while your audience is in this curious state, you can present your key points either as the answers to these questions (this is probably the ideal way to do it), or at the very least, before the answers are revealed. This way, your audience will be primed for learning, and more likely to remember what you want them to.

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