Curiosity and Motivation

by Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE

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    00:05 So Barb, we've learned so much about acquiring knowledge and retaining that knowledge but you know well a great challenge is there's so much to learn that at times it can be exhausting and when losses ones' motivation. Do you have any suggestions or advice for students? How do they maintain their motivations with their studies? Well, you might be excited to know that neuroscience has some great answers for us there. So let's dive in. Later in this course you'll be learning much more about neurotransmitters. But now, I'm going to introduce you to a neurotransmitter that has a lot to do with your motivation. And that is dopamine. You can think of dopamine in the brain is coming in 2 different flavors so to speak. There is tonic dopamine and that helps with motivation. It's always these tonic dopamine molecules are kind of all around the brain, sort of like music in a grocery store. The other form of dopamine, well, it's just distributed differently is called phasic dopamine. And this dopamine arises when you have an unexpected reward and as you'll see it helps with learning. So, we know that when you've learned something you actually connect 2 neurons together. There's that synapse where the gap is and then as you practice that connection becomes much stronger.

    01:58 But, there's a way as it turns out to actually help that strengthening go along even more quickly. What is that? That is to use the dopamine molecule. So, when you get an unexpected reward, dopamine molecules are squirted in a network through the brain but they specifically target the neurons that have been used recently whenever you got that unexpected reward. So, dopamine molecules actually help strengthen neuro connections. In fact, they have done studies on mice and they disabled their dopamine systems and discovered to their surprise that mice without good dopamine systems can't learn. So, what is really happening when you're learning something? Let's say that you're trying to solve a problem.

    03:05 Well, you might try to solve a problem and you don't get it right and you try again and it's still not right. So you try another time and it's still not right. Well, then you try yet again, you're persistent. And as you can see what happens is you solve the problem and suddenly you get this unexpected feeling of reward a little bit of euphoria, "I did it, I solved it." And that squirts dopamine all through the connections that have just been used and that helps strengthen those connections and that's actually how you learn. So to sum things up, there are 2 flavors of dopamine and those are the 2 different ways that dopamine is administered in the brain. The first is phasic and that's dopamine that is distributed in these little dollops very near the connections that you've just made when you had a reward that was unexpected. So you solve a problem unexpectedly, boom you get this trail of dopamine that helps those neuro connections to solidify and become stronger. So, phasic dopamine helps with learning but it only really works with unexpected rewards. If you expect to get a reward, that is different, that helps with motivation. So, if you remember tonic dopamine is kind of distributed around the brain. If you want to become more motivated, a good way to do it is to help yourself reframe some of the ideas to make an expected reward seem closer, seem more real. So you may put a picture of yourself in a white coat and imagining yourself as a doctor or as a nurse or as the person you really want to be.

    05:23 And this can help you with that motivation by raising your dopamine, your tonic dopamine levels and that will help with your motivation. So Barb, that was so helpful. So let me see if I can sum this up. Really to succeed, you want to remain curious and it's a long journey so keep that in mind. Always be inquisitive.

    05:54 Be persistent because when you're persistent, you will be rewarded and that will help your learning and most importantly remember why you started on this journey. Remember where you're going and that you will get there. So, thank you so much. And thank you.

    About the Lecture

    The lecture Curiosity and Motivation by Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE is from the course Neuroscience of Learning.

    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Dopamine generates a feeling of pleasure when a piece of information is unexpectedly learned.
    2. Dopamine strengthens neural connections involved in learning.
    3. Dopamine helps with learning during the Pomodoro rest period.
    4. A peak in phasic dopamine results from unexpected rewards during learning.
    5. Dopamine can help with learning by augmenting motivation.
    1. Phasic dopamine helps with learning; tonic dopamine helps with motivation.
    2. Phasic dopamine is distributed sporadically in response to unexpected rewards, while tonic dopamine is present throughout the brain.
    3. Tonic dopamine helps with learning; phasic dopamine helps with motivation.
    4. Tonic dopamine is distributed sporadically in response to unexpected rewards, while phasic dopamine is present throughout the brain.
    5. Both phasic and tonic dopamine are distributed in response to unexpected rewards.

    Author of lecture Curiosity and Motivation

     Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE

    Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE

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