This shows a man staring into a void.
The study also found that curiosity increased at different stages of watching these videos.Credit: Neuroscience News

Unraveling Curiosity: Why We Savor the Suspense and Shun Spoilers

Summary: A new study reveals a counterintuitive aspect of curiosity: it heightens our patience to learn an answer, yet intensifies our eagerness for it.

Researchers utilized short line-drawing videos, akin to popular cooking clips on social media, to explore how curiosity influenced the urge to spoil the end. As participants became more curious, they resisted the temptation to skip ahead, valuing the journey of discovery.

This deeper understanding of curiosity may aid educators in enhancing motivation and deepening learning in classrooms.

Key Facts:

  1. Curiosity paradoxically makes us patient for answers, while intensifying the urge to know.
  2. The study used 30-second animated line drawing videos, allowing participants to skip to the end if they chose to.
  3. Curiosity was linked with joy, which might explain why viewers often avoid TV show spoilers and prefer watching plots develop.

Source: Duke University

Curiosity paradoxically increases people’s patience for an answer, while simultaneously making them more eager to hear it, finds a new study by Duke neuroscientists.

The research might help teachers and students alike by describing a side of curiosity that encourages us to stay engaged instead of seeking immediate relief.

Die-hard fans of the Hulu show, “The Bear” are left on the edge of their seats each Sunday, wondering what’s going to happen in the scrappy Chicago hotdog shop next week. But the new study from Duke helps explain why viewers may choose to avoid spoilers despite the urge for resolution.

“When we think of curiosity, we often think of this need for immediate answers,” said Abby Hsiung, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and lead author of the new research paper. “But we found that when people were more curious, they were actually more willing to wait.”

The findings appeared October 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“When we watch TV shows or football games, we’re watching that information evolve over time, uncertain about how it’s all going to end”, said Hsiung. “I wanted to know if higher curiosity would push people to seek, or to avoid, getting an immediate ‘spoiler’.”

Hsiung drew inspiration from short cooking videos that are popular on Instagram and TikTok.

“These videos caught my attention because even though they’re so short, they manage to develop a narrative and suspense, so that you’re invested and curious about how the lasagna will all come together.”

So Hsiung got out her digital paintbrush and made a series of 30-second animated line drawing videos that, like the cooking clips, eventually ended up as something highly recognizable, like a taco or a dog.

More than 2,000 adults from across the U.S. then watched 25 of these short line-drawing videos online. Participants in Hsiung’s study were asked along the way how curious they were, how they felt, and to guess what the drawing would become. Viewers also had a ‘spoiler’ button to skip ahead to see the final drawing.

Hsiung and her team were surprised to find that when people were curious, they withheld from hitting the ‘spoiler’ button and kept watching the drawings unfold. It was when people were less curious that they tended to opt for an instant answer.

“Curiosity didn’t just motivate getting answers, it increased the value of the journey itself,” said Alison Adcock M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke and senior author of the new report.

The study also found that curiosity increased at different stages of watching these videos.

“We saw higher curiosity during moments where it seemed like the drawing could turn into anything and also when participants were starting to really home in on a single answer,” said co-author Jia-Hou Poh, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

Curiosity also stirred up people’s feeling of joy, explaining why people kept watching the line drawing video even when they could just hit a button to get the answer right away.

“This helps explain why people often avoid spoilers,” said Scott Huettel, Ph.D., a fellow senior author on the study and Duke professor of psychology and neuroscience. “Knowing the end of a new TV series, for example, can remove the enjoyment of watching the plot unravel.”

Hsiung and her team suggests that aside from watching TV shows, stoking curiosity might also help enhance motivation in the classroom to potentially improve learning. A recent study from Dr. Adcock and Poh found that increasing curiosity can enhance memory by ‘readying’ the brain for new information. This latest finding highlights that curiosity can also bolster persistence throughout a learning journey, which is often needed for deep understanding.

“By understanding what sparks curiosity, especially how it arises from our own ideas, we can find more ways to cultivate it and benefit from the learning it promotes.” said Dr. Adcock.

Funding: Support for the research came from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

About this curiosity and neuroscience research news

Author: Dan Vahaba
Source: Duke University
Contact: Dan Vahaba – Duke University
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Curiosity Evolves As Information Unfolds” by Abby Hsiung et al. PNAS


Curiosity Evolves As Information Unfolds

When people feel curious, they often seek information to resolve their curiosity. Reaching resolution, however, does not always occur in a single step but instead may follow the accumulation of information over time.

Here, we investigated changes in curiosity over a dynamic information-gathering process and how these changes related to affective and cognitive states as well as behavior.

Human participants performed an Evolving Line Drawing Task, during which they reported guesses about the drawings’ identities and made choices about whether to keep watching.

In Study 1, the timing of choices was predetermined and externally imposed, while in Study 2, participants had agency in the timing of guesses and choices. Using this dynamic paradigm, we found that even within a single information-gathering episode, curiosity evolved in concert with other emotional states and with confidence.

In both studies, we showed that the relationship between curiosity and confidence depended on stimulus entropy (unique guesses across participants) and on guess accuracy. We demonstrated that curiosity is multifaceted and can be experienced as either positive or negative depending on the state of information gathering.

Critically, even when given the choice to alleviate uncertainty immediately (i.e., view a spoiler), higher curiosity promoted continuing to engage in the information-gathering process.

Collectively, we show that curiosity changes over information accumulation to drive engagement with external stimuli, rather than to shortcut the path to resolution, highlighting the value inherent in the process of discovery.

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  1. Reading ‘The Neuroscience of You’ by Chantel Prat has instigated a desire to undestand why our brain influences our quest in some people to be ultra curious i.e. researching their family history, who they are and why and an insatiable desire to learn whatever the subject may be in order to further knowledge. My father once told me when I was 21 and learning about life – there are only 2 kinds of people in life i.e. those that care and do something about it or those who are apathetic.I am now 74 and experience of life has not found a hole in this assertion. What do neuroscientists have to say on this?

  2. “WE”??
    Sorry, but what you mean is why do some peo
    ple ‘savour’ suspense and others detest it!!

  3. Interesting thoughts around the “phenomenon” of curiosity. In our world, the innovation planet, and very much like the startup planet, CURIOSITY is the first and foremost talent or soft skill or cognitive ability. We explored many ways to identify the level of curiosity and found questions and answers a good way. The deeper they dive the more curious they are if it is something they are deeply committed to. They don’t care if you, the interviewer, have the time or not. The real curious forget being tested but satisfy their curiosity. On the contrary, they continue being a tester with the goal of being accepted and playing a certain role they are trying to get. Now the spoiler because the path is not the goal here or in the test, Curiosity is a multi-dimensional “thing”:
    The curious must have a relationship to the object he or she is curious about and or a relationship to such an object. If not the curiosity dies in an instant. In other words, curiosity is not a general ability but an ability that is triggered by something. If the spoiler kicks in the curiosity may die. But it can be revitalized if something deeper, and different arises. So curiosity goes hand in hand with compatible “neuro stimuli”.
    With that, curiosity should be taken to the next level: How are those “neuro stimuli” composed and what is the resonance mechanism? Because it is definitely neither the whole experience level, nor some exceptional great experiences, or very bad experiences. OK we believe, dopamine and adrenalin however play a strategic role. Are you curious now? Did I stimulate other thoughts, maybe exciting eureka effects, or maybe anger?

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