Curiosity Can Make You More Patient For Answers

curiosity cat

In a new study, neuroscientists at Duke University found that people who are curious paradoxically become more patient in waiting for an answer while also becoming more eager to hear it. By outlining a facet of curiosity that motivates us to remain involved rather than look for quick relief, the research may be beneficial to both educators and students.

Every Sunday, fans of the Hulu show “The Bear” are left on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen at the scrappy Chicago hotdog business the following week. However, the new Duke study explains why viewers may prefer to avoid spoilers despite the desire for resolution.

“When we think of curiosity, we often think of this need for immediate answers. But we found that when people were more curious, they were actually more willing to wait,”

said lead author Abby Hsiung, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

Narrative and Suspense

As we watch TV series or football games, we’re observing the information change over time and not knowing how it will all turn out, according to Hsiung.

“I wanted to know if higher curiosity would push people to seek, or to avoid, getting an immediate ‘spoiler’,”

she said. Hsiung was inspired by short cooking videos prevalent on Instagram and TikTok:

“These videos caught my attention because even though they’re so short, they manage to develop a narrative and suspense, so that you’re invested and curious about how the lasagna will all come together.”

So Hsiung took out her digital paintbrush and created a series of 30-second animated line-drawing films that, like the culinary clips, eventually became something instantly recognized, such as a taco or a puppy.

No Spoilers Please

More than 2,000 adults from across the U.S. then watched 25 of these short line-drawing videos online. Participants in Hsiung’s study were asked along the way how curious they were, how they felt, and to guess what the drawing would become. Viewers also had a ‘spoiler’ button to skip ahead to see the final drawing.

Hsiung and her team were surprised to see that when individuals were intrigued, they avoided clicking the ‘spoiler’ button and instead continued to watch the drawings emerge. People tended to prefer an immediate response when they were less curious.

“Curiosity didn’t just motivate getting answers, it increased the value of the journey itself,”

said senior author Alison Adcock M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Duke.

Joy in Curiosity

The study also found that curiosity increased at different stages of watching these videos.

“We saw higher curiosity during moments where it seemed like the drawing could turn into anything and also when participants were starting to really home in on a single answer,”

said co-author Jia-Hou Poh, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

People’s feelings of joy were also sparked by curiosity, which explains why they persisted in watching the line drawing video despite having the option to instantly receive the answer by pressing a button.

“This helps explain why people often avoid spoilers, Knowing the end of a new TV series, for example, can remove the enjoyment of watching the plot unravel,”

said Scott Huettel, Ph.D., a fellow senior author on the study and Duke professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Hsiung and her colleagues propose that, in addition to viewing TV shows, arousing interest in the classroom may help boost motivation and potentially increase learning. A recent study by Dr. Adcock and Poh discovered that boosting curiosity can improve memory by ‘readying’ the brain for new knowledge.

This latest discovery demonstrates that curiosity can also boost persistence during a learning journey, which is typically required for profound knowledge.

“By understanding what sparks curiosity, especially how it arises from our own ideas, we can find more ways to cultivate it and benefit from the learning it promotes,”

said Dr. Adcock.


When people feel curious, they often seek information to resolve their curiosity. Reaching resolution, however, does not always occur in a single step but instead may follow the accumulation of information over time. Here, we investigated changes in curiosity over a dynamic information-gathering process and how these changes related to affective and cognitive states as well as behaviour. Human participants performed an Evolving Line Drawing Task, during which they reported guesses about the drawings’ identities and made choices about whether to keep watching. In Study 1, the timing of choices was predetermined and externally imposed, while in Study 2, participants had agency in the timing of guesses and choices. Using this dynamic paradigm, we found that even within a single information-gathering episode, curiosity evolved in concert with other emotional states and with confidence. In both studies, we showed that the relationship between curiosity and confidence depended on stimulus entropy (unique guesses across participants) and on guess accuracy. We demonstrated that curiosity is multifaceted and can be experienced as either positive or negative depending on the state of information gathering. Critically, even when given the choice to alleviate uncertainty immediately (i.e., view a spoiler), higher curiosity promoted continuing to engage in the information-gathering process. Collectively, we show that curiosity changes over information accumulation to drive engagement with external stimuli, rather than to shortcut the path to resolution, highlighting the value inherent in the process of discovery.

  1. Abigail Hsiung, Jia-Hou Poh, Scott A. Huettel, R. Alison Adcock. Curiosity evolves as information unfolds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2023; 120 (43) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2301974120