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If you think you know the farm animal most closely related to T-Rex, or the American president who inspired the creation of blue jelly beans -- but aren't entirely sure -- you're more likely to bone up on the chicken-dinosaur connection or Ronald Reagan's predilection for glazed, gel-filled candies.
That's because our doubts about what we know pique our curiosity and can motivate us to learn more, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.
Findings - Online - Journal - Psychonomic - Bulletin
The findings, just published online in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, challenge a popular belief that curiosity in general is the prime driver of knowledge acquisition. They also give new meaning to the Montessori approach to learning readiness, which encourages children to follow their own natural inquisitiveness.
"It's very in vogue to talk about curiosity as a strategy to increase learning, but it's unclear how to engage people's curiosity," said study senior author Celeste Kidd, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. "Our study suggests it's the uncertainty -- when you think you know something and discover you don't -- that leads to the most curiosity and learning."
Applications - Classroom - Students - Misconceptions
Practical applications include tailoring classroom learning to students' misconceptions about what they know.
"Asking students to explain how things work can be an effective learning intervention because it makes them aware of what they don't know and curious about what they need to know," said study co-lead author Shirlene Wade, a visiting Ph.D. scholar in Kidd's psychology lab at UC Berkeley.
Example - Students - Climate - Change - Bicycle
For example, if students are quizzed on what causes climate change, how a bicycle works or about the U.S. constitutional separation of powers -- and realize they only have a partial understanding of how these things work -- their curiosity is stimulated, and they're more open to learning, if only to get it right the next time.
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