How do uncertainty and reward context affect the behavioural and neural response of curiosity?

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Although curiosity was long characterized as information-seeking with the aim of maximizing rewards, it was found that receiving information in itself is already rewarding. This raised questions about what curiosity actually represents. In order to further clarify which factors and neural substrates are thus correlated with curiosity, this study contains two lottery experiments: a behavioural experiment using a willingness to wait measure of curiosity and an fMRI experiment measuring curiosity through self-ratings. In both experiments, curiosity is measured as a function of outcome uncertainty, expected value and reward context (win/loss), all manipulated independently. The behavioural results from both studies show an increase in curiosity with higher outcome uncertainty and during win trials compared with loss trials. Curiosity thus seems to be a function of multiple independent factors, one of which is related to information updating and the other to reward maximization. Neuroimaging results showed activation in the primary motor cortex as a function of outcome uncertainty and reward context. The ventral striatum also showed more activation during win trials compared with loss trials. In addition, curiosity relief versus no relief is correlated with higher activation in the right insula. A proposed theory is that the primary motor cortex and the ventral striatum cooperatively encode curiosity induction, but further research is needed in order to determine this. The previously found correlation between the insula and curiosity relief is replicated.
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen