Waiting for Feedback Helps If You Want to Know the Answer: The Role of Curiosity in the Delay-of-Feedback Benefit

By Mullaney, Kellie M.; Carpenter, Shana K. et al. | Memory & Cognition, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Waiting for Feedback Helps If You Want to Know the Answer: The Role of Curiosity in the Delay-of-Feedback Benefit


Mullaney, Kellie M., Carpenter, Shana K., Grotenhuis, Courtney, Burianek, Steven, Memory & Cognition


Published online: 3 July 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract When participants answer a test question and then receive feedback of the correct answer, studies have shown that the feedback is more effective when it is delayed by several seconds rather than provided immediately (e.g., Brackbill & Kappy, Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 55, 14-18, 1962; Schroth, Contemporary Educational Psychology; 17, 78-82, 1992). Despite several demonstrations of this delay-of-feedback benefit, a theoretical explanation for this finding has not yet been developed. The present study tested the hypothesis that brief delays of feedback are beneficial because they encourage anticipation of the upcoming feedback. In Experiment 1, participants answered obscure trivia questions, and before receiving the answer, they rated their curiosity to know the answer. The answer was then provided either immediately or after a 4-s delay. A later final test over the same questions revealed a significant delay-of-feedback benefit, but only for items that had been rated high in curiosity. Experiment 2 replicated this same effect and showed that the delay-of-feedback benefit only occurs when feedback is provided after a variable, unpredictable time diuation (either 2, 4, or 8 s) rather than after a constant diuation (always 4 s). These findings demonstrate that the delay-of-feedback effect appears to be greatest under conditions in which participants are curious to know the answer and when the answer is provided after an unpredictable time interval.

Keywords Delay of feedback · Curiosity · Memory

Feedback is essential to learning. Research has shown that when participants answer a question incorrectly on a memory test, they are very unlikely to correct this error unless they are provided with knowledge of the correct response (e.g., Carpenter, Sachs, Martin, Schmidt, & Looft, 2012; Fazio, Huelser, Johnson, & Marsh, 2010; Finn & Metcalfe, 2010; Kang et al., 2011; Lhyle & Kulhavy, 1987; Pashler, Cepeda, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2005). A related topic concerns the timing of feedback. When participants answer a question incorrectly and then receive a presentation of the correct response, when should this presentation occiu? Is there an optimal time during which to provide feedback? Or, is the timing unimportant as long as feedback is eventually provided?

An intuitive assumption is that feedback should be provided as soon as possible. Indeed, decades of research on operant learning have demonstrated that behavior is most effectively reinforced when knowledge of the desired response is provided immediately after the response occius (e.g., Perin, 1943; Pubols, 1958; Tarpy & Sawabini, 1974). Interestingly however, research using cognitive tasks has found that immediate feedback is not always best. Instead, performance can be enhanced by delaying feedback for brief periods of time (i.e., up to several seconds) after a response is made.

For example, Brackbill and colleagues found that children's performance in a visual discrimination task was enhanced under conditions in which the feedback presentation was delayed by several seconds rather than provided immediately (e.g., Brackbill, 1964; Brackbill, Bravos, & Stau, 1962; Brackbill, Isaacs, & Smelkinson, 1962). In one study (Brackbill & Kappy, 1962), children were presented with pairs of line drawings (e.g., a boat and a star) and had to guess which drawing was couect. After the child chose one of the drawings, feedback (in the form of a light flashing above the couect drawing) was provided either immediately or after a 10-s delay. Although immediate feedback led to faster acquisition-that is, fewer trials required to reach a criterion of three couect responses during learning-it actually led to worse performance on a later test of relearning. On this later test, children who had previously received 10-s delayed feedback reached a criterion of three correct responses in fewer trials than did children who had previously received immediate feedback. …

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