How many moons does Jupiter have? What is a group of frogs called? How many total steps does the Eiffel Tower have? If you know the answers, congrats! If you don’t, take a guess! If you’re curious about the answers, keep reading…because my project is about that—curiosity!
When it comes to learning, we as humans constantly seek out and consume information, whether we’re aware of it or not. When we look at a traffic light, we’re learning from that stimulus so we can make our next move—stop or go. The Adcock Lab studies learning and the many cognitive elements behind it, such as attention, reward, and you guessed it—curiosity. The information-gap hypothesis posits that curiosity is a sense of “deprivation that arises from the perception of a gap in knowledge and understanding” (Lowenstein, 1994). Basically, when we don’t know something, our interest is piqued, driving us to learn and consequently resolve that lack of knowledge.
The Adcock Lab has previously conducted research on curiosity, such as identifying neural networks that correspond to anticipation and attention when information is withheld or delayed. My mentor Abby has also recently done a study in which she characterized certain determinants of curiosity—what spurs it, and what maintains or prolongs it. By implementing real-time self-reports of curiosity into her experiment, in which participants produced guesses on the content of art videos, she was able to track how curiosity changes over the duration of information arrival.
My research project is an offshoot of Abby’s, looking at other mediators of curiosity. It has been largely established that there is a link between curiosity and memory, and another link between engagement and memory. Curiosity has been seen to enhance learning and memory both for information of interest (Kang et al. 2009, Wade & Kidd, 2019) and incidental information (Gruber et al. 2014), while choice and active engagement was seen to enhance memory with both intentional (Voss et al. 2011) and incidental encoding (Murty et al. 2015). However, the three-way relationship between curiosity, agency, and memory has not been as clear; my project, therefore, is to establish that link. In the experiment, autonomy and active engagement will be manipulated to see differences in levels of self-reported curiosity during the previously mentioned art video task. Participants will then be called back to perform a memory test in order to examine differences in recall.
My project will also explore how the unique dispositions of people respond differently to these manipulations in engagement. This “trait curiosity” is well-defined in Kashdan et al. 2017, where certain people may view curiosity as positive, constantly asking questions and being fascinated with the workings of the world, while others view it as more negative—asking questions only when the uncertainty of a lack of information is too uncomfortable to ignore. By linking active engagement, curiosity, and memory, and consequently analyzing that link with respect to dispositional differences in curiosity, this research will hopefully have strong implications in education. Curiosity could be better incited through greater student autonomy or engagement in the classroom setting, enhancing learning beyond rote memorization. The self-awareness of one’s own curiosity could also result in a greater motivation to close the information gap, leading to a stronger internal desire to learn instead of for extrinsic incentives like grades. The potential impact of this research is exciting, and as the days pass, I become more and more curious on the conclusions of my project!
Answers: Jupiter has 79 moons, a group of frogs is called an army, and the Eiffel Tower has 1710 steps!