The role of prior knowledge and curiosity in learning

  • Shirlene WadeEmail author
  • Celeste KiddEmail author
Brief Report


Recent work has argued that curiosity can improve learning. However, these studies also leave open the possibility that being on the verge of knowing can itself induce curiosity. We investigate how prior knowledge relates to curiosity and subsequent learning using a trivia question task. Curiosity in our task is best predicted by a learner’s estimate of their current knowledge, more so than an objective measure of what they actually know. Learning is best predicted by both curiosity and an objective measure of knowledge. These results suggest that while curiosity is correlated with knowledge, there is only a small boost in learning from being curious. The implication is that the mechanisms that drive curiosity are not identical to those that drive learning outcomes.


Curiosity Memory Learning Metacognition 



We thank Colin Camerer for helpful discussion; Matthias Gruber for helpful discussion and use of stimuli; Becca Canale, Sarah Field, Rebecca Handsman, Holly Palmeri, and Zoe Pruitt for providing similarity judgements for participant responses; and a Google Faculty Award and the Jacobs Foundation Early Career Research Fellowship to CK for funding in support of this project. This work was also supported by an award from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (Grant No. DGE-1419118) to SW. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Brain and Cognitive SciencesUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA

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