Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science




Kohler, Stefan


The present thesis addressed whether experiences of failed recall for names of familiar faces could induce states of curiosity and drive memory benefits. Experiment 1 investigated whether older adults exhibit the same familiarity preference in information seeking, following an unsuccessful recall attempt for names of previously studied faces, as seen in younger adults. Experiment 2 considered whether acting on the curiosity induced by unsuccessful recall of names associated with familiar faces could provide benefits for the relearning of those names in both age groups. The older adults displayed a similar, if not more pronounced, positive relationship between familiarity and subsequent information seeking as was observed in the younger adults. Giving participants an opportunity to leverage their own curiosity to relearn the names of familiar faces following an unsuccessful recall attempt led to higher recall accuracy rates than exposure to names under conditions in which curiosity could not be acted upon.

Summary for Lay Audience

The main goal of the present thesis aimed to understand whether being unable to recall the name of familiar faces triggers curiosity for those names and whether any such curiosity has learning benefits. Experiment 1 sought out to replicate the results from a study by Brooks and colleagues (2023) in which a group of younger adults demonstrated a preference to explore the names of previously studied familiar faces – rather than completely novel ones, after they were previously unsuccessful at recalling them. Critically, Experiment 1 also investigated whether the same relationship between face familiarity and name exploration persists in older adults as successful name recall is often more difficult for this age group. Experiment 2 investigated how providing participants with the opportunity to follow their own curiosity when choosing the face-name association to learn might benefit their recall performance. Results from Experiment 1 demonstrated that both younger and older participants were more likely to choose to explore the names for the faces that were more familiar to them. This suggests a positive relationship between subjective familiarity and information seeking behaviour. Experiment 2 revealed in both younger and older adults that an opportunity to follow one’s curiosity has benefits for the relearning of names that previously could not be recalled, leading to a boost in name recall on subsequent occasions. Compared to the group of participants who did not have a choice in selecting names to explore, participants who were given a choice demonstrated greater improvements from the initial recall test to the final recall test. Overall, the results of the current thesis demonstrated that curiosity is not only helpful when learning new information, but it also provides memory benefits when relearning familiar information that cannot be accessed easily when probed. These results provide many directions for follow-up research such as investigating the underlying brain mechanisms that may be responsible for the curiosity-driven memory benefit during relearning. Another direction would investigate whether the results can be leveraged to overcome recall problems in real life situations in which names (for example, those of celebrities) do not easily come to mind in older adults.

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