The role of prior knowledge and curiosity in learning.


Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, 2121 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA, 94720-1650, USA. [Email]


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.