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

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 F. (2009) The Wick in the Candle of Learning: Epistemic Curiosity Activates Reward Circuitry and Enhances Memory. Psychological Science, 20 (8). pp. 963-973. ISSN 0956-7976. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02402.x.

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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.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
Wang, Joseph Tao-yi0000-0001-6786-8099
Camerer, Colin F.0000-0003-4049-1871
Additional Information:© 2009 Association for Psychological Science. Received 6/26/08; Revision Accepted 12/6/08. This research was supported by Moore and Human Frontiers of Science Program grants (C.F.C.). We thank Meghana Bhatt, Jonathan Cohen, Liqing Zhang, Galen Loram, Carmina Caringal, Noah Myung, Daniel Holland, the John O’Doherty lab, the Caltech Magnetic Resonance users group, and the audiences at Economic Science Association and Functional Imaging Laboratory meetings for help and comments.
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Human Frontier Science ProgramUNSPECIFIED
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:8
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20110217-073613221
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:22280
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:09 Mar 2011 19:14
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 16:04

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