Curiosity Improves Memory
Abstract (via SSRN)
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.