The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of understanding and managing information seeking behavior. Information-seeking in humans is often viewed as irrational rather than utility maximizing. Here, we hypothesized that this apparent disconnect between utility and information-seeking is due to a latent third variable, motivation. We quantified information-seeking, learning, and COVID-19-related concern (which we used as a proxy for motivation regarding COVID-19 and the changes in circumstance it caused) in a US-based sample (n = 5376) during spring 2020. We found that self-reported levels of COVID-19 concern were associated with directed seeking of COVID-19-related content and better memory for such information. Interestingly, this specific motivational state was also associated with a general enhancement of information-seeking for content unrelated to COVID-19. These effects were associated with commensurate changes to utility expectations and were dissociable from the influence of non-specific anxiety. Thus, motivation both directs and energizes epistemic behavior, linking together utility and curiosity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors thank Ohad Dan for their useful discussion and Nitai Kerem for his help with coding recalled answers. Funding was provided by a Templeton Foundation Science of Virtues grant (#60844 to D.S. and R.R.H.).
© 2022, The Author(s).
- Information Seeking Behavior