Curiosity Depends on What You Already Know
In a 1994 paper, Loewenstein theorized that curiosity’s direction is determined by the “information gap,” the sudden awareness of what you don’t know and the immediate desire to fill that gap.
But for the information gap to set its hook, though, it can’t be too big or too small - Curiosity peaks when subjects have a good guess about the answers, but aren’t quite sure.
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When we’re consciously doing things we’re using the “executive attention network, ” the parts of the brain that control and inhibit our attention. The attention network makes it possible for us to relate directly to the world presently around us.
By contrast, when our minds wander, we activate the brain’s “default mode network, ” which is the brain “at rest”; not focused on an external, goal-oriented task. In this mode, we still tap about 95% of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in focused thinking.