I am currently reading a broad survey paper by George Loewenstein as background for a possible curiosity experiment (“The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation,” Psychological Bulletin 1994. Vol. 116, No. 1.75-98). In the paper, there is a comment that relates to my recent “Buying Behavior” posting and provides credence to Harvard Economics Professor Roland Fryer’s idea to motivate scholastic achievement by paying students for good behavior. My previous post urged caution.
In discussing the societal implications of his information-gap theory of curiosity, which surmises that curiosity arises in the distance between “what one knows and what one wants to know,” Loewenstein states:
“The information-gap perspective has significant implications for education. Educators know much more about educating motivated students than they do about motivating them in the first place. As Engelhard and Monsaas (1988, p. 22) stated, ‘historically, education research has focused primarily on the cognitive outcomes of schooling’ rather than on motivational factors. The theoretical framework proposed here has several implications for curiosity stimulation in educational settings. First, it implies that curiosity requires a preexisting knowledge base. Simply encouraging students to ask questions—a technique often prescribed in the pedagogical literature—will not, in this view, go very far toward stimulating curiosity. To induce curiosity about a particular topic, it may be necessary to ‘prime the pump’ to stimulate information acquisition in the initial absence of curiosity. The new research showing that extrinsic rewards do not quell intrinsic motivation suggests that such rewards may be able to serve this function without drastically negative side effects.”
So there is hope that the extrinsically incented Capital Gains approach advocated by Fryer will “prime the pump” on learning and curiosity will take care of the rest without triggering the adverse effects of entering into economic verses social exchange.