13 October 2021

In our everyday lives, we are bombarded with an enormous amount of information. Sometimes the information is directly relevant to you, for example when you check the weather report to see if you should bring an umbrella. However, we can also be curious about information that does not serve such an obvious purpose. Think for example about all the times you scroll through the social media apps on your smartphone without having a clear goal in mind. What drives us to be curious about such “useless” information?

Lieke van Lieshout investigated this question during her PhD under supervision of professor Roshan Cools (Radboudumc Department of Psychiatry, Donders Institute Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging) and professor Floris de Lange (Donders Institute Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging). The results were published in PLoS ONE on September 24th 2021.

They used a lottery task in which uncertainty about the outcome and whether the outcome would be a gain or a loss were manipulated independently. During this task, participants had to indicate how curious they were about each lottery outcome, but they had no way of influencing what the outcome would be. The researchers found that curiosity increased with outcome uncertainty when you would gain money, but also if you would lose money. On top of that, they found that curiosity is overall higher for gains (positive information) compared with losses (negative information).

These findings advance our understanding about what makes us curious by indicating that curiosity is both driven by a motivation to reduce uncertainty, as well as, by a motivation to maximize positive information. Lieke is now working at the Donders Centre for Cognition where she studies the neurocognitive mechanisms of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.


van Lieshout, L. L. F., Traast, I. J., de Lange, F. P., & Cools, R. (2021). Curiosity or savouring? Information seeking is modulated by both uncertainty and valence. PLoS ONE, 16(9), e0257011.



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