Columbia University in the City of New York

New Research Investigates What Drives Us to Learn

What can playing games in a lab teach us about how we learn? Graduate student Alex Ten designed this interactive game to investigate what sparks our curiosity and activates our innate drive to find out.

Players win by figuring out the behavior of cartoon monsters on a screen. By tweaking the complexity of that task, researchers in the Gottlieb lab explored the boundary between learning being so easy that it’s boring and so hard that it’s frustrating. Searching for the sweet spot in-between that keeps us interested, the researchers build a computer model that predicted engagement in the game.

Teachers and scientists have long been trying to figure out what motivates people to learn – not only to become fleetingly curious but develop long-term interests and invest effort in learning. This kind of research may reveal new learning strategies, for both humans and machines. Learn more about the work in the latest edition of Nature Communications where it was recently published.

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