The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity

Psychol Sci. 2016 May;27(5):659-66. doi: 10.1177/0956797616631733. Epub 2016 Mar 21.


Curiosity-the desire for information-underlies many human activities, from reading celebrity gossip to developing nuclear science. Curiosity is well recognized as a human blessing. Is it also a human curse? Tales about such things as Pandora's box suggest that it is, but scientific evidence is lacking. In four controlled experiments, we demonstrated that curiosity could lead humans to expose themselves to aversive stimuli (even electric shocks) for no apparent benefits. The research suggests that humans possess an inherent desire, independent of consequentialist considerations, to resolve uncertainty; when facing something uncertain and feeling curious, they will act to resolve the uncertainty even if they expect negative consequences. This research reveals the potential perverse side of curiosity, and is particularly relevant to the current epoch, the epoch of information, and to the scientific community, a community with high curiosity.

Keywords: affective forecasting; curiosity; information gap.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Communication
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Reading