Psychophysiological correlates of Morbid Curiosity



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Morbid curiosity is the interest or attentiveness to uncomfortable content (Scrivner, 2021). Very little research has investigated the psychological and physiological underpinnings of morbid curiosity. The current study investigated the psychophysiological correlates of morbid curiosity with the use of heart rate variability (HRV), self-reported morbid curiosity, and a morbid curiosity induction. Aim 1A investigated if there was a relationship between HRV and self-reported morbid curiosity. It was hypothesized that morbid curiosity would be correlated with HRV at rest and HRV during the completion of a self-reported morbid curiosity assessment (i.e., Morbid Curiosity Scale). Aim 1B assessed the relationship between heart rate variability and induced morbid curiosity using the morbid curiosity induction task. It was hypothesized that HRV would increase when participants engaged in a morbid curiosity task (i.e., watching a true crime documentary), as compared to a neutral condition (i.e., watching a neutral documentary) or at baseline (i.e., rest). Aim 2 investigated the relationship between the induced morbid curiosity, participants' curiosity ratings, and learning. It was hypothesized that HRV and participant's curiosity ratings during the morbid curiosity condition would be a significant predictor of learning, as measured immediately after the morbid curiosity induction and approximately one week later (Aim 2). No significant correlations were found between self-reported morbid curiosity and HRV (Aim 1A). For the Morbid Curiosity Induction Task, there was a significant increase in HRV during the neutral condition (i.e., watching neutral documentary) as compared to baseline (i.e., at rest), but no difference between the morbid curiosity condition (i.e., watching true crime documentary) and the other conditions (Aim 1B). HRV and participant's curiosity ratings were not found to be significant predictors of learning in either the in-lab learning assessment or in the learning assessment (memory recall task) that was administered a week later (Aim 2). The results of this study suggest that there is no significant relationship between HRV and self-reported morbid curiosity, and no relationship between induced morbid curiosity and learning. This works highlights the importance of better understanding the concept morbid curiosity and to better understand the relationship between morbid curiosity and psychophysiological processing.



Morbid curiosity, psychology, psychophysiological correlates, heart rate variability, morbid curiosity scale, true crime, curiosity, learning, memory recall