Theses Doctoral

The Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms of Curiosity

Cohanpour, Michael

Curiosity, the intrinsic desire for information, is a significant but underexplored driver of human exploration, learning, and discovery. This dissertation seeks to uncover the cognitive and neural mechanisms of curiosity, in addition to investigating its impact on memory, contributing to our understanding of this fundamental aspect of human cognition.

Chapter 2 uses a novel paradigm involving texforms, distorted visual stimuli, to probe the neural basis of curiosity. The findings reveal a negative, quadratic relationship between curiosity and confidence. Furthermore, the findings suggest a neural mechanism in which multivariate certainty in occipitotemporal cortex is translated into univariate confidence in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) to facilitate curiosity.

In Chapter 3, we delve deeper into the cognitive underpinnings of curiosity, demonstrating that confidence mediates the relationship between various cognitive variables — such as the vividness of imagery, guess specificity, and semantic similarity — and curiosity. This extension of the established mechanism from Chapter 2 reinforces the central role of confidence in curiosity.

Shifting focus to the consequences of curiosity, Chapter 4 explores its influence on memory. Despite prior research demonstrating curiosity's enhancement of memory for trivia answers, our results reveal that curiosity does not affect memory for the stimuli that evoke curiosity itself, or 'questions'. This nuanced finding underscores the complexity inherent in the relationship between curiosity and memory.

In sum, this dissertation creates a novel experimental framework for studying curiosity, highlights the pivotal role of confidence in curiosity, enhances our understanding of perceptual curiosity's mechanisms, and illuminates the intricate relationship between curiosity and memory. These results together provide a solid platform for future research in these areas.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Gottlieb, Jacqueline
Aly, Mariam
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 4, 2023