The effect of information gap and uncertainty on curiosity and its resolution


We used a novel missing-letters task to induce curiosity, where participants were shown as a stimulus a nine-letter word with some letters missing (2, 4, or 7 missing letters) and asked to complete the word. We found that both the information gap (number of letters missing) and participants’ uncertainty regarding the complete word predicted their curiosity to learn the complete word. Participants were later shown the complete word, and their learning satisfaction (measured directly through self-ratings, and indirectly through the affect misattribution procedure) was found to be influenced by the information gap, their familiarity with the word, and whether they had been able to correctly guess the complete word. We proposed a schema verification view of curiosity—people resolve information gaps because they are motivated to verify their prior schema of the environment—to explain our findings and to integrate it with prior work on the topic.

Singh, A., & Manjaly, J. A. (2021). The effect of information gap and uncertainty on curiosity and its resolution. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 1-21.

Using curiosity to improve learning outcomes in schools

Despite an increasing school enrollment in India, the overall learning levels have been low, and the dropout level has been high. One reason for low learning levels is the student’s lack of motivation to learn in the classroom. We suggest that curiosity may be a useful tool to improve student motivation. We review important factors that have been found to increase curiosity in the classroom: need to feel autonomous and competent, the relevance of the learning topic, coherence of the learning material, the concreteness of the presented ideas, ease of comprehension, involvement of an element of fantasy, student’s belief about whether new interest can be acquired over time, and importantly, an awareness of a small knowledge deficit. We also suggest ways to incorporate them in the Indian classroom to improve student motivation, as well as the limitations of our approach.

Singh, A., & Manjaly, J. A. Using curiosity to improve learning outcomes in schools. SageOpen. (Accepted)

The effect of knowledge retrieval on curiosity 

In line with recent literature, we are testing if recalling information on a topic increases curiosity on a topic. We predict that recalling question-related information increases the participant’s curiosity for the answer. This technique has implications in classrooms where, before a teacher asks the student a question and then proceeds to answer it (e.g., what is proof for the Pythagoras theorem), they should ask the student to recollect as much information as they can remember about the topic (about proofs, triangles, right angles, etc.) which could improve their curiosity for the answer. (This manuscript is under review)

Ongoing Research Projects

Feedback on Curiosity

Feedback is commonly given in classrooms as a means of performance evaluation. They play a crucial role in inducing intrinsic motivation and modifying behaviors by making gaps in the performer’s current and the goal knowledge state evident. In this context, it may be useful to consider the role of curiosity in pedagogy. Curiosity is the drive to resolve knowledge gaps, especially when they are perceived to be small, by seeking relevant information. By providing feedback that alerts students that they are very close to learning/understanding a concept/topic, we can induce the perception of a small knowledge gap, and thus influence their curiosity. In this project, we aim to understand the role of feedback in modulating curiosity and the extent to which variables such as prior knowledge and confidence affect this process.

Effect of refutation and Incongruity on curiosity

In this project, we looked at whether refuting a widely held fact would surprise the participants into being curious about the belief and the wider topic itself. Refutation statements such as ‘bats can see, and in fact have a decent visual perception ability', would reduce students’ confidence about bat vision, and should therefore increase their curiosity for learning about this proposition (‘so why do bats use echolocation to navigate if they can see?’), and perhaps even other bat-related information (e.g., bat habitat). However, we found that refutation does not increase curiosity for the entire topic - no increase in curiosity was found for bats or for animals in general. Thus, to increase curiosity about a topic, the teacher may introduce the topic with a refutation of well-known widely held belief – this will increase curiosity for information on that topic.

Mindfulness and Curiosity

Mindfulness is a state of nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment and can help mitigate automatic mental operations. This happens due to improved capacity of attentional control developed through mindful tasks, such as breathing, and meditation. Attention, moreover, is essential to increase engagement towards novelty, incongruity and any other knowledge gaps that are key elements that give rise to curiosity. By studying variables of curiosity in states of attentional control and in its absence, we explore the relationship between attention and curiosity, which may have multiple implications in classroom settings for learning and engagement. 

Language acquisition and Curiosity

Language learning utilizes two memory systems - declarative and procedural. Previous research suggests that curiosity enhances retention of hippocampus-based declarative knowledge but its association with procedural knowledge and procedural memory systems are unclear. We explore this relationship by using a language learning paradigm where we produce small information gaps by using artificial language in the middle of a narrative. We predict that curiosity has an enhancing effect on overall language learning, and while the declarative system is expected to be enhanced as previous studies suggest, we predict that curiosity enhances the learning outcomes of procedural memory systems as well.