Why Do People Seek Information? The Role of Personality Traits and Situation Perception

Hayley K. Jach, Colin G. DeYoung, Luke D. Smillie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The opportunity to learn new knowledge is ever present. How do people decide if information has sufficient value to counteract the cost of obtaining it? We proposed a conceptual model of information seeking that emphasizes how personality traits and perceptions of situations may influence motivations to seek information to explore (related to trait curiosity and openness/intellect, and situations evoking more positive emotions and opportunities for intellectual engagement) or feel safe (related to trait uncertainty intolerance and neuroticism, and situations that evoke more negative emotions). Across two studies (N = 436; N = 316), information seeking was assessed with two widely used paradigms (advance knowledge of a reward outcome and answers to trivia questions), as well as two variations of the trivia paradigm in Study 1. In all contexts, the available information was noninstrumental, having no practical utility within the context of the task. Consistent with our proposed exploration pathway, curiosity and openness/intellect predicted the choice to seek information for trivia and related stimuli, but not reward-outcome stimuli, and trivia stimuli were generally rated as more intellectually engaging, more positive, and less negative than reward-outcome stimuli. However, evidence for the safety pathway was only partially in line with predictions, with uncertainty intolerance predicting reward-outcome information seeking in Study 2 only. We consider possible modifications to our initial model and implications for information-seeking research. These studies provide a proof of concept that people display both trait and context-dependent preferences for noninstrumental information, both of which are commonly overlooked in studies of information seeking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)934-959
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 16 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding in support of this project was provided by the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and the Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative. Hayley K. Jach was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. We thank Tinaruo Sun and Beth Clarke for their assistance with developing stimuli and coding responses for the trivia component of Study 1.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Psychological Association


  • Curiosity
  • Information seeking
  • Personality traits
  • Situation perception
  • Uncertainty intolerance


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