Curiosity Enhances Incidental Object Encoding

Xiaoyun Chen, Katherine Twomey, Gert Westermann

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Recent research with adults indicates that curiosity induced by uncertainty enhances learning and memory outcomes, and that the resolution of curiosity has a special role in curiosity-driven learning. However, the role of curiosity-based learning in early development is unclear. Here we presented 8-month-old infants with a novel looking time procedure to explore: 1) whether uncertainty-induced curiosity enhances learning of incidental information; and 2) whether uncertainty-induced curiosity leads infants to seek uncertainty resolution over novelty. In Experiment 1, infants saw blurred images to induce curiosity (Curiosity sequence) or a clear image (Non-curiosity sequence) followed by presentation of incidental objects. Despite looking equally to the incidental objects in both sequences, in a subsequent object recognition phase infants looked longer to incidental objects presented in the Non-Curiosity than in the Curiosity condition, indicating that curiosity induced by blurred pictures enhanced the processing of the incidental object, leading to a novelty preference for the incidental object shown in the Non-Curiosity condition. In Experiment 2, a blurred picture of a novel toy was first presented, followed by its corresponding clear picture paired with a clear picture of a new novel toy side-by-side. Infants showed no preference for either image, providing no evidence for a drive to resolve uncertainty. Overall, the current studies suggest curiosity has a broad attention-enhancing effect in infancy. Taking into account existing studies with older children and adults, we propose a developmental change in the function of curiosity, with a broad attention-enhancing effect in infancy to more goal-directed information seeking in order children and adults.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Jun 2022


  • infancy
  • curiosity


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