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The Wick in the Candle of Learning: Epistemic Curiosity Activates Reward Circuitry and Enhances Memory

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Abstract:

ABSTRACT

Curiosity has been described as a desire for learning and knowledge, but its underlying mechanisms are not well understood. We scanned subjects with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they read trivia questions. The level of curiosity when reading questions was correlated with activity in caudate regions previously suggested to be involved in anticipated reward. This finding led to a behavioral study, which showed that subjects spent more scarce resources (either limited tokens or waiting time) to find out answers when they were more curious. The functional imaging also showed that curiosity increased activity in memory areas when subjects guessed incorrectly, which suggests that curiosity may enhance memory for surprising new information. This prediction about memory enhancement was confirmed in a behavioral study: Higher curiosity in an initial session was correlated with better recall of surprising answers 1 to 2 weeks later.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02402.x

Affiliations: 1: Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; 2: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and Department of Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; 3: Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University; 4: Department of Psychology, Stanford University; and 5: Department of Economics, National Taiwan University

Publication date: 2009-08-01

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