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What drives our curiosity remains an elusive and hotly debated issue, with multiple hypotheses proposed but a cohesive account yet to be established. This review discusses traditional and emergent theories that frame curiosity as a desire to know and a drive to learn, respectively. We adopt a model-based approach that maps the temporal dynamics of various factors underlying curiosity-based exploration, such as uncertainty, information gain, and learning progress. In so doing, we identify the limitations of past theories and posit an integrated account that harnesses their strengths in describing curiosity as a tool for optimal environmental exploration. In our unified account, curiosity serves as a 'common currency' for exploration, which must be balanced with other drives such as safety and hunger to achieve efficient action.

Original publication




Journal article


Trends Cogn Sci

Publication Date



curiosity, information, learning progress, reinforcement learning, surprise, uncertainty