Curiosity leads us to seek out unpleasant, painful outcomes

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New York, April 10 (IANS) Curiosity is a powerful motivator in humans and is often seen as a blessing, but it can also turn out to be a curse.

According to a new study, curiosity is sometimes so powerful that it leads people to choose potentially painful and unpleasant outcomes that have no apparent benefits, even when they have the ability to avoid these outcomes altogether.

“Just as curiosity drove Pandora to open the box despite being warned of its pernicious contents, curiosity can lure humans — like you and me — to seek information with predictably ominous consequences,” explains study author Bowen Ruan from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.

The findings showed that curiosity stems from people’s deep-eated desire to resolve uncertainty regardless of the harm it may bring.

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Many times, one seeks out information to satisfy his or her curiosity without considering the aftermath.

However, the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, also showed that asking people to predict the consequences of their choices might also dampen the power of their curiosity.

The team hypothesised designed various experiments that exposed participants to a variety of particularly unpleasant outcomes.

In one study, 54 college student participants were shown electric-shock pens and were told that they could click the pens to kill time while they waited for the “real” study task to begin.

For some of the participants, the pens were colour coded according to whether they would deliver a shock — five pens that would shock had a red sticker and five pens that would not shock had a green sticker — meaning that the students knew with certainty what would happen when they clicked a given pen.

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In addition, the researchers also kept 10 pens that all bore yellow stickers. The participants were told that some of the pens had batteries while others did not. In this case, the outcome of clicking each pen was uncertain.

The results revealed that students in the uncertain condition clicked noticeably more pens.

On average, those who did not know what the outcome would be clicked about five pens, while those who knew the outcome clicked about one green pen and two red pens.

Curious people do not always perform consequentialist cost-benefit analyses and may be tempted to seek the missing information even when the outcome is expectedly harmful, the researchers noted.

“We hope this research draws attention to the risk of information seeking in our epoch, the epoch of information,” Ruan concluded.

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