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

73 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2008 Last revised: 10 Dec 2008

Min Jeong Kang

California Institute of Technology

Ming Hsu

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Economics

Ian M. Krajbich

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics

George Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Samuel M. McClure

Stanford University - Psychology

Joseph Tao-yi Wang

National Taiwan University - Department of Economics

Colin Camerer

California Institute of Technology - Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Date Written: November 27, 2008

Abstract

Curiosity has been described as the "wick in the candle of learning" but its underlying mechanisms are not well-understood. We scanned subjects with fMRI while they read trivia questions. The level of curiosity when reading questions is correlated with activity in caudate regions previously suggested to be involved in anticipated reward or encoding prediction error. This finding led to a behavioral study showing that subjects spend more scarce resources (either limited tokens, or waiting time) to find out answers when they are more curious. The fMRI also showed that curiosity increases activity in memory areas when subjects guess incorrectly, which suggests that curiosity may enhance memory for surprising new information. This prediction about memory enhancement is confirmed in a behavioral study- higher curiosity in the initial session is correlated with better recall of surprising answers 10 days later.

Keywords: Neuroimaging, Memory, Learning, Brain

JEL Classification: Y8

Suggested Citation

Kang, Min Jeong and Hsu, Ming and Krajbich, Ian M. and Loewenstein, George and McClure, Samuel M. and Wang, Joseph Tao-yi and Camerer, Colin, The Wick in the Candle of Learning: Epistemic Curiosity Activates Reward Circuitry and Enhances Memory (November 27, 2008). Psychological Science. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1308286 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1308286

Min Jeong Kang (Contact Author)

California Institute of Technology ( email )

1200 East California Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91125
United States

Ming Hsu

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Economics

410 David Kinley Hall
1407 W. Gregory
Urbana, IL 61801
United States

Ian M. Krajbich

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics ( email )

410 Arps Hall
1945 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43210-1172
United States

George F. Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-8787 (Phone)
412-268-6938 (Fax)

Samuel M. McClure

Stanford University - Psychology ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Joseph Tao-yi Wang

National Taiwan University - Department of Economics ( email )

1 Roosevelt Road, Section 4
Department of Economics
Taipei, 106
Taiwan
886-2-33668411 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://homepage.ntu.edu.tw/~josephw/

Colin F. Camerer

California Institute of Technology - Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences ( email )

1200 East California Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91125
United States
626-395-4054 (Phone)
626-432-1726 (Fax)

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