Sparking Curiosity

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Research study provides new insight on what makes us more open to new experiences.
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An inquiring mind and a preference for novelty spurred some of our ancestors to explore new environments and make new discoveries.
We all have a natural curiosity that drives us to try new experiences. It is part of the reason our ancestors tried new things, even when the outcomes were not clearly beneficial.
 
However, research shows that our preference for novelty is not always straightforward and that we are occasionally biased toward the familiar.
 
Dr. Moshe Eizenman, a Professor at the department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences and an Affiliate Scientist at the Krembil Research Institute, recently conducted a study to explore this bias.
 
As part of the study, participants performed visual and audio tasks—either alone or together—while they were presented with novel and previously displayed images that were shown following short or long delays. During this time, their eye movements were recorded and analyzed to determine how likely they were to be paying attention to each of the images. 
 
The research team found that participants who performed the visual and audio tasks together were less likely to pay attention to a new image when there were long delays, but not when there were short delays. 
 
“To allocate more attention to novel images, our brain first has to differentiate between previously seen images and new images. This is done by two distinct memory systems. One memory system recognizes previously seen images by remembering details of the images; this system was affected by the long-delays in our study,” explains Dr. Eizenman. “The second memory system does not remember the details of images but it can indicate if those images were previously seen; this system was not affected when subjects performed two tasks at once.”
 
“A hallmark of human behavior has always been our desire to explore. This study provides new insight into the effects of multitasking on the automatic, subconscious processes that support and drive our curiosity,” says Dr. Eizenman.
 
The study was supported by the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the University of Toronto Vision Science Research Program and the Toronto General & Western Foundation.
 
Eizenman M, Chung J, Yu M, Jia H, Jiang P. Attention, novelty preference and the visual paired comparison task. Exp Eye Res. 2018 Nov 13. pii: S0014-4835(18)30381-6. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2018.11.009.