The goal of this study was to investigate the psychological factors that motivate morbidly curious behavior, specifically the cognitive motivation to learn new information. Participants were shown various morbid and non-morbid control images, sometimes with a preview and sometimes without a preview. The preview condition created a situation in which the target image contained no new information, thereby removing the opportunity to learn more information. For each image, participants were asked to complete a visual search task unrelated to the content of the image as quickly as possible. If morbid content distracted participants from the visual search task, then response times for correct responses should be slower, and gaze duration on the morbid content should be longer compared to the control. Furthermore, if morbid curiosity depends in part on the opportunity to obtain new information about a potentially dangerous situation, then providing a preview of the morbid content should reduce this effect. Results indicated response times and image gaze durations were longer for morbid images and for images without a preview. These data illustrate that morbidly curious behavior significantly decreased when a preview was given and cognitive motivation was taken away, which suggests that the opportunity to learn new information is important in eliciting morbid curiosity. However, some morbid curiosity remained even in the absence of this cognitive motivation, which suggests that other factors are also at play in motivating morbidly curious behavior.
Harbison Ruedisili, Hanna Rose, "Investigating the Psychology of Morbid Curiosity: The Role of Needing to Know" (2023). Psychology Honors Projects. 54.
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