Motivational States Shape the Process of Information Seeking

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Seeking information is fundamental not only for making adaptive choices but also for extending our knowledge both individually and as a collective society. Understanding how people organize and carry out seeking information, remains an open and critical challenge for the field of psychology and neuroscience. In this dissertation, I approach this challenge by examining the organization of information seeking through the lens of the motivational states of an individual. I leverage behavioral, computational modeling, and neuroimaging methods to provide a multi-faceted understanding of the relationship amongst motivation, information seeking, and memory formation. In the first study, I used computational models to examine latent sampling strategies as people gathered information to guide subsequent action. These results demonstrated that unlike the optimal strategy, people perform simple accumulations instead of computing expected values, and that unlike a simple heuristic strategy, people dynamically integrate multiple sources of information in lieu of using only one source, highlighting a computationally efficient strategy that balances competing motivations for accuracy and cost minimization. In the second study, I explore how curiosity evaluates information as it unfolds over time, reporting that curiosity can promote the patience to prolong uncertainty and such patience culminates in experiencing discovery. In the third study, I extend these findings to capture the rewarding process of discovery and its impact on memory using functional magnetic resonance imaging. In the fourth study, I investigate how distinct motivational forces can drive information seeking and learning through distinct mechanisms. Collectively, the work presented in this dissertation reveals that our motivational states play a significant role in shaping our information seeking behaviors, working to balance competing goal states, and pushing us to confront and even enjoy the experience of uncertainty.




Psychology and Neuroscience




Cognitive psychology, Psychology, Curiosity, Information-seeking, Motivation



Hsiung, Abigail (2023). Motivational States Shape the Process of Information Seeking. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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