Free Sun Sky photo and pictureThe weekend shone bright in Helena, our quaint little haven. It was one of those days when the air hung heavy with excitement, the promise of the upcoming parade adding an extra sprinkle of joy. My sister, Treanna, was with us, embodying every bit of the loving yet assertive big sister role she’d always played.

The city had set up those stanchions to steer the parade’s route, and there I was, pushing our tiny wagon packed with my kids. You know, the typical dad duty. But, oh god no, the stanchions didn’t leave enough room for the wagon to push through the road. We were temporarily stuck.

The line behind us was growing, and the anticipation was almost palpable.

It was then that Treanna’s voice cut through the anticipation. “Michael!” she said, in somewhat of a big sister voice.

Our cart had decided it was the perfect moment to play hard to get, stubbornly stuck. Seeing no other option, I moved the barrier aside to make our way through.

“MICHAEL!” Treanna called again, her alarm seemingly escalating with each passing second.

She was now officially freaking out.

The folks behind us tried to reassure her it was no big deal, but she wasn’t in a mood to accept their comforting words. Instead, she frantically seized the cart and began to push, the urgency apparent in her every action.

“Hey chill out,” I said to her, grabbing the cart back. I didn’t like her driving so aggressively with my kids.

Our post-parade ice cream session was now somewhat marred by the memory of the cart incident – still hanging in the air.

Free Ice Cream Cone photo and picture

Treanna, my brave and determined sister, you could just tell, she felt upset. I could see she was bothered, and she wandered away while we sat licking our cones. This was a little hiccup, I tried to tell myself, a temporary cloud on an otherwise sunny day. But sometimes those little hiccups turn into something, you know?

So the key question became, internally, inside my mind: how could I mend this?

Would we let this ruin the entire day? Or would we quickly get through this otherwise “trivial” problem?

This is where my go-to approach of “rupture and repair” came into play. In these situations, I find that curiosity, more than anything, can bridge the gap. So I ventured over to Treanna, my curiosity at the helm.

“I’m curious if we are going to be able to get through this? Are you okay?” I asked her gently.

“I’m fine,” she responded, her words not quite matching the look in her eyes. We revisited the incident together, dissecting and understanding it. She apologized, her tone softening, and I knew we’d crossed the toughest hurdle.

This encounter reminded me again of the power of curiosity. It’s how I navigate conflicts and hurdles. When faced with a problem, I simply ask myself, “I’m curious, can we work at our problem together, for just a few minutes, and then drop it?” Even if it’s just for one minute, I find the curiosity allows me to engage in a constructive way. It’s like a little magic trick that helps me stay connected, understanding, and most importantly, caring, no matter what the situation is.

The Duke University Study

Well, it turns out that embracing a curious and exploratory mindset, as opposed to a high-pressure one, can significantly enhance learning and memory retention, reveals a novel study by Duke University.

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The study shows that participants who engaged in a virtual art museum heist as a thief planning for a future heist had a better recall of the paintings they saw, compared to participants who assumed the role of a thief executing the heist right then. This interesting observation suggests that the nature of motivation – urgent goal achievement versus curious exploration for a future goal – can crucially influence learning outcomes.

Such insights could have remarkable implications, potentially aiding in addressing global issues such as climate change and vaccine acceptance, or even finding better treatments for various psychiatric conditions.

Research Methodology

For the study, the researchers assigned the role of art thieves to 420 participants, dividing them into two distinct groups. The first group was told they were executing the heist in the present moment, whilst the second group was told they were planning for a future heist.

The study had the participants playing the same computer game, navigating through a virtual art museum divided into four distinct rooms, each represented by a colored door. Each door revealed a painting along with its associated value, and participants were incentivized with real bonus money for finding more valuable paintings.

Subsequently, the participants were tested the next day through a pop quiz to recognize 175 different paintings (including 100 seen the day before and 75 new ones) and recall their values.

Research Findings

Participants who were curious, that is, who imagined planning a heist demonstrated improved memory retention, recognizing more paintings accurately and recalling their values. On the other hand, participants in the ‘urgent’ group were more adept at discerning which doors concealed more valuable artworks and succeeded in securing more valuable pieces.

However, the researchers stressed that neither the urgent nor the curious mode is superior, instead, their effectiveness varies depending on the context. For instance, an urgent mode might be more effective in solving immediate issues, like evading a bear during a hike, whereas a curious mode might be more beneficial for long-term actions, like lifestyle changes.

Ongoing Research

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The researchers are now investigating how urgency and curiosity trigger different parts of the brain. Preliminary evidence indicates that urgency activates the amygdala, associated with fear memory, whereas curiosity stimulates dopamine flow to the hippocampus, essential for forming detailed, long-term memories.

So It Depends

As a writer, I notice that besides conflict resolution over ice cream – my best writing, as well, often simply comes from a place of “exploration” and hence, curiosity. But, with this said, I have also gotten a lot done from rushing to the typewriter to “get it out”. Stephen King says to never come to the paper light, and to come to it heavy, meaning serious and having something to say kind of attitude.

So perhaps they both have their place. But curiosity is how I tend to go when it comes to being creative, and how I work through conflicts, and it’s how I wrote this blog today, haha! To me, being curious just makes it fun.

John Michaelsa Missoula native and author, has been captivating readers with his writing for years. A graduate of Brown University’s esteemed creative writing program, Michaels has spent the majority of his career crafting stories that resonate with his readers and capture the essence of the human experience. Despite the demands of raising children, Michaels has continued to pursue his passions, finding solace in the bustling downtown Missoula scene. There, he spends his free time honing his craft, whether it be working on short stories, playing music, or dedicating himself to his work at Sunflower Counseling, MT.