curiosity keeps us alive longer

Stay curious, live longer – and better



Curiosity doesn’t kill anybody

Decline in cognitive functioning has long been associated with the ageing process. And there is a lot of evidence to suggest that memory and tendency to seek new experiences can wane as people get older. But this does not have to be the case and there is now more causal research which considers the way curiosity and motivation can spark activities that defy such functional decline. In her article, ‘The benefits of maintaining a curious mind in older age’, President of Psychology in Action, Mary Whatley, considers evidence to date on cognitive function and the ways it can be affected as we age.

She sees evidence that motivation may play a significant role and the motivational factor which is under scrutiny is curiosity. Recent research shows that maintained curiosity in older age can be linked to better memory and wellbeing, even the survival rates of older adults. The evidence of the efficacy of so-called ‘brain-training’ games is less impressive, with Whatley concluding that ‘It seems that brain training may improve the ability to complete the specific task being trained (i.e. performing crosswords makes you better at crosswords), but they may not help you remember, for example, where you left your car keys.’

But interest and curiosity, Whatley maintains, may motivate older adults to engage with hobbies or other skill learning. And curiosity may serve a ‘protective factor’ because it leads older adults to take up activities that reinforce healthy ageing. Examples such as photography or language lessons, which have been linked to improved cognitive outcomes such as episodic memory and speed of processing.

At one level this may seem more dry academic information – but on a more personal level it’s really exciting to know that there are rewards for staying switched on and curious.