Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science




Kohler, Stefan

2nd Supervisor

Khan, Ali



It is well-established that curiosity has benefits for learning. Less is known about potential links between curiosity and memory retrieval. In theoretical work on metacognition it has been argued that retrieval experiences that occur during memory search can exert control over behaviour. States of curiosity, which can be defined as behavioural tendencies to seek out information, may play a critical role in this control function. We conducted two experiments to address this idea, focusing on links between feeling-of knowing (FOK) experiences, memory-search duration, and subsequent information-seeking behaviour. We administered an episodic FOK paradigm that probed memory for previously studied arbitrary face-name pairs and provided a subsequent opportunity to select a subset for restudy. With this set-up, we examined whether unsuccessful retrieval attempts bias restudy choices towards information that received high FOK ratings. Results in Experiment 1 revealed a positive relationship between FOK ratings and the response-times for corresponding judgments. Critically, we observed a similar positive relationship between FOK ratings and restudy choices in both experiments. Moreover, experimental manipulations of cue familiarity, through introduction of entirely novel (Experiment 1) or primed (Experiment 2) faces in the FOK test-phase, had parallel effects on FOKs and information-seeking behaviour. Overall, these findings suggest that metacognitive experiences accompanying unsuccessful retrieval from episodic memory can induce states of curiosity, which exert control over behaviour beyond the immediate retrieval context. As such, curiosity may act as a bond to ensure that memory gaps identified through unsuccessful retrieval adaptively guide future learning.

Summary for Lay Audience

The question of what makes us curious is one that captures the attention of scientists and the general public alike. We can easily think of a situation where we were watching a movie and tried to remember the name of an actor for a specific character, but eventually had to admit that we could not recall it. Often present in this scenario is the accompanying feeling that we should have been able to remember this person’s name despite being unable to do so at the current time. We can intuitively relate to the idea that such a situation may induce a state of curiosity that motivates us to find out the answer in other ways, perhaps via a Google search. Despite this intuitive appeal, little empirical research on curiosity has investigated its relationship to the subjective feelings that accompany memory retrieval. This link is what the current thesis aimed to address, focusing on a particular subjective experience called a feeling-of-knowing (FOK), in combination with an examination of behavioural expressions of curiosity. A FOK can be defined as the belief that an unrecallable piece of information could be successfully recognized in the future (i.e. “I would know it if I saw it”). Results of the two completed behavioural experiments showed that the degree of an FOK experience for names that had been previously studied in associated with faces, but could not be recalled, was closely related to curiosity. Specifically, higher FOK experiences went hand-in-hand with both longer initial memory search and increased tendencies to seek out information about the names in a subsequent restudy phase. Moreover, experimental manipulations of these FOK experiences resulted in parallel effects on memory-search time and information-seeking in the subsequent restudy phase, lending support for a causal role for FOK experiences in driving these behaviours. Overall, the results from this study provide evidence that memory experiences during unsuccessful memory recall can breed curiosity and may facilitate adaptive learning.