Process account of curiosity and interest: A reward learning model of knowledge acquisition
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Description: Previous studies suggested roles for curiosity and interest in knowledge acquisition and exploration but there has been a long-standing debate about how to define these concepts and whether they are related or different. In this paper, we propose a reward learning model of knowledge acquisition, calling for process-oriented approach to understand curiosity and interest. The model centers on the role of rewarding experience associated with knowledge acquisition and learning, and posits that (1) the acquisition of new knowledge strengthens the value of further information and (2) new knowledge is likely to generate further questions (i.e. recognition of knowledge gaps). These properties create a positive feedback loop system that self-boosts rewarding experience over time, allowing people to sustain commitment to the knowledge acquisition process without extrinsic rewards. We argue that curiosity and interest should be studied within the framework of the reward-learning process, rather than as psychological entities that likely reflect our ill-defined, naïve concepts. We also show how our model explains many other relevant theoretical concepts proposed in the literature (e.g., individual interest vs. situational interest; specific curiosity vs. diversive curiosity). Finally we discuss the implications of our model for education and empirical research in educational psychology.