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<b>Complex Systems Seminar</b><br>Curiosity, Information Gaps, and the Utility of Knowledge<br><b>Speaker: Russell Golman (Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University)</br></b>

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
4:00 AM
411 West Hall, Ehrlicher Room

Speaker: Russell Golman (Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University)

We examine the motives driving the desire for, or the desire to avoid, information. We propose an integrated theoretical framework that makes sense of, and generates novel predictions regarding, phenomena related to preference about information, going beyond the standard economic account that information is valuable to the extent that it aids decision making. In addition, people try to satisfy curiosity, the desire for information in the absence of material benefits; people seek out information about issues they like to think about and avoid information about issues they do not like to think about (the ostrich effect); and people tend to avoid (though in some cases actually prefer) making decisions when relevant probabilities are not known (ambiguity aversion). Our framework relies on the insights that knowledge has valence, that ceteris paribus people prefer to fill in information gaps, and that information affects the focus of attention as well as contributes to knowledge. We offer non-obvious, testable predictions, such as that people might avoid obtaining costless medical tests, yet they might well choose to be informed about the results if the tests had been conducted (and especially if they were confronted with a medical professional who knew the results). Our framework also helps to make sense of the observation that people often invest in, and enjoy, obtaining expertise in areas of knowledge, such as a taste for wine or ability to identify flora and fauna, that confer no benefits beyond the knowledge itself.