Theory and Measurement of Human Curiosity
Scoring Manual for Curiosity in TAT Stories
Curiosity is defined operationally by the following scoring criteria
when applied to imaginative verbal productions written under appropriate
conditions. If the pictures are different from those we have
used, or if the test instructions or general administration conditions
are changed, there is no guarantee that these criteria will be valid.
All criteria should be applied literally, explicitly and, whenever
there is cause for doubt, conservatively.
Every care must be taken not to be influenced against scoring a
statement for curiosity because of the context in which it occurs.
We assume that curiosity can be part of an almost infinite variety of
The criteria should be applied whether or not they seem to be
sensible in any particular instance. At the same time, it is quite
impossible to set down criteria which will apply unambiguously to all
possible imagery. There is some room for interpretation of the
criteria, but this must always be done with caution and the evidence
in the stories should always be taken at its face value. The
criteria are written in terms of statements which appear in TAT
stories and not in terms of what might be inferred from them — i.e.,
the question to ask is not "Is this statement evidence of curiosity?",
but rather "Is this statement the same kind of statement as those
39-page numbers in the original
which we know to be evidence of curiosity under this particular
criterion?" The task is to decide whether or not a piece of imagery
belongs to one of several classes defined by the manual and to assign
it to the class of unrelated imagery if the evidence is not clear.
If this general strategy is followed there will be very little disagreement
between scorers. The scoring reliability should be .90 or
Abstract comment (e.g., "curiosity is a valuable asset") is not
scored. All criteria apply only to explicit description of objects
and people, of behaviour and experience, in the story. Some particular
object must be described or at least one person performing a certain
act or experiencing some subjective state. The behaviour and experience
which are scored can be that of any person in the story.
Each category of imagery is scored only once for each story.
That is, the scorer decides whether a story meets the criteria for each
category. Initially, he* might have to consider each category in turn,
[*Please excuse apparently single gender pronouns.
This was written in 1961 before conventions changed.]
but with a little practice the decisions can be made while reading a
story only once or twice.
No piece of evidence can be scored for more than one category.
When a category is scored the scorer must be able to note exactly
which words in the story he took as evidence, and then further categories
can be scored only if other words can be taken as evidence
Sometimes evidence appears which satisfies the criteria for more
than one category of imagery, but only one can be scored. The rule
is to choose so as to maximize the total score. This is usually accomplished
automatically by giving the major imagery criteria precedence
in the order in which they appear in the manual and by preferring
minor imagery criteria whenever one major category has been
scored. More specifically, the first task is to decide whether
any of the major categories can be scored and then whether any minor
criteria are satisfied. If no major categories can be scored there
is no problem; and if only one is scorable then it must be scored
regardless of whether scoring it excludes minor categories. If
minor categories can be scored and there is also a choice between
major categories, choose the major category which does not require
evidence that would be needed to score a minor category and then
score all possible minor categories before scoring additional major
categories. (In this way, for example, we might prefer Co to CR
and then score Ov as well thus gaining three points instead of two).
Should it happen, in any way, that some evidence allows a choice
between categories one of which could also be scored from other
evidence, then choose the category which cannot be scored otherwise.
In general, if there is a choice, maximize the total score.
Major Imagery Criteria
There are five principal categories of curiosity imagery:
wonder-interest; perceptual investigatory acts; cognitive acts
instrumental in problem solving; exploratory role behaviour; and
a cue-response sequence. These provide the criteria for deciding
whether curiosity imagery is present or absent. The other minor
criteria provide (together with the major criteria) the basis for
increasing the score and can be considered subcategories which if
scored alone give only Incomplete evidence of curiosity imagery.
(Wl) Wonder-Interest. Any statement of the kind that any person in
the story is wondering about, interested in, curious about, fascinated
with any object, idea or event which is the focus of present attention
can be scored for curiosity imagery. The subjective state of wonder
etc. must be described specifically and it must have an object.
The object is usually something strange or novel but it does not have
to be so described — it is only necessary that its presence be referred
to once. Long term, interests are not scored under this
1. An apparently middle aged man is skin diving. He is not
on any particular assignment due to the fact he has no lungs to
breathe by. The tankers in the foreground are mysterious and
arouse his curiosity. He wants to explore the wreckage but
hasent the oxygen supply to do so. I presume he will accumulate
the equipment and finish his exploration.
2. The old man was looking at the book with fascination. In
his days there weren't so many words. He trying to figure out
the words and their meanings. He probably is thinking to himself
how things changed since he was a boy. He probably
realizes what he's missed and how the generation is learning
more and more things. To him the book seem strange and full
of new things. He never learned these things in school.
3. Will It Work.
As Unika the scientst looks at his new discovery he is
thinking if it will work. If the electron in too metals can
turn back the time in a man's brain. He is also triing to
find a Guiney pig. He is thinking of his nurse who is very
old and who he hates. He tries it. It works the nurse in
back, back into the past of younger years. Dr.Unika finds out
many things one of which are so unbeleivable. The nurses
mother has some Black magic in her so the nurse also has some
but she has forgotten it and now the doctor knows. Knows all
Knows how to make the dead come back to life.
(Pe) Perceptual instrumental acts. Any description of perceptual
investigatory behaviour, which has the general goal of finding out
something, can be scored without its purpose being specifically
stated. Perceptual investigatory acts are usually either orienting
responses or instances of careful attention. Orienting responses
are distinguished from other perceptual events principally by more
active verbs: e.g., "looking at" rather than "seeing", or "listening"
rather than'hearing", unless there is direct evidence of an active
focusing of attention such as "trying to hear what is going on in the
next room". Distraction from a task because of a small change in
the environment or a sudden change of attention are usually orienting
responses. Careful attention, besides often being specially described
as careful, is found when attention is maintained over a considerable
time and when verbs like "to examine" and "to observe" are
4. Doctor Murray, when presented with an very unusual and
beautiful sea-shell was absolutely stunned. He just took it in
his hands, and sat at his desk and examined it for about three
hours. But, since he could not make out as to what type it
could be, he stood up and giving one last look at it went over
to his wastepaper basket and threw it in.
Never again did Dr. Murray have to worry about what it was
or where it came from.
5. The man is searching. Looking for an answer to the
question—What's under the sea? He's searchings bring him to
an old antic tank. His curiosity makes him want to explore
this object. Diving deeper and closer to it he looks at it
с1озеr. He finds an interesting object tinit and brings it
above to show to the people in his boat. He finds out this
he is clutching in his hand gold. Consequently, everyone is
eager to еx1оге and see if more gold can be found. So,
searching is done some more.
6. (see below)"...observing a piece of work - Sculpture....to
observe it more carefully."
(Co) Cognitive instrumental acts. There is a large variety of evidence
for this category of curiosity imagery. In all cases there must be
some physical or mental object upon which attention is focused. There
must be something to be investigated or some problem to be solved.
"Thinking" in a problem solving situation is a common instance, but
it must be instrumental or directed towards making known something
which was not known before. "Studying" is not scored unless the
object of study is mentioned (e.g. "He is studying the habits of these
insects.") "Reading" poses a special problem. It is often necessary
to examine the context to discover whether or not it is instrumental.
Reading" for fun" is scored, but reading as a duty is not. Any kind
of hypothesis building is scored (e.g. "He thought, 'That might be a
message from the lost ship’.” In general any cognitive act which is
investigatory or problem solving will be evidence for curiosity imagery.
6. A man is observing a piece of work – Sculpture on his study.
He found this and went to his study to observe it more carefully.
He is thinking of what it is made of. He wants to find out the
source of it. He is going to go to one of his books and look up
some information on its category. He will find out that it is
unusual land will try to learn as much as he can about it and then
report to someone in this field and interest what he found out.
7. An old man is reading a very interesting story in the park
About the depretion. After he was done reading he went home and
Planted a vegetable garden and in a few weeks he had many vegetables
to appease his apetite.
2. (see above) "...trying to figure out the words and their meanings
3. (see above ) "...triing to find a Guiney pig. He is thinking of
(EB) Exploratory role behaviour. To score this category the role of
A person in the story should be identified (either explicitly or
culturally) as exploratory and the description elaborated with details
of role behaviour. The mere fact that a person is said to be explor-
ing or in the role of an investigator (such as "scientist," "detective"
"archeologist") is not sufficient unless exploratory behaviour is
included in the story. A person acting out an exploratory role need
not be a professional worker in that role. He could be taking it for
a short time "just for fun" (e.g. amateur skin divers might sometimes
be described as explorers). Stories of inventors are scored if some one
is engaged in specific acts of investigation whether or not these
acts are instrumental to the success of the invention. Description
of a person's interests might contain evidence of an exploratory role.
Statements such as "to find out" or "let's see if" can indicate an
exploratory interest. Sometimes exploration is instrumental to the
goal of collecting unusual objects and stories of this kind are scored
provided t hat some detail of exploratory behaviour is included.
8. Under water epedation
There was a frogman under water. It is a calm day for there
were no curunts and everything was serene. But what was in the two
tunnels. Was it just two large pipes with nothing but water in,
or was there some hidden secret; some strange being in side. The
man will go inside, into the unknown, where he will explore, what
is to happen? will he come out, and if he does in how may pieces.
It is men like this who love adventure who will do the daring.
9. The army frogman is 50 fathom,s beneath the sea he is looking
for something, he is Peter Smith the famed demolition expert.
He finds the abandoned, and "sunten" ship in the main salon of
this ship is a bomb that he has to find.
10. Russ Johnson, a geoligist had been away in Africa for 3 years,
looking for the remains of an old tempel. During these years,
away from his family and his friends, and away from the University,
and his colegus, Russ often "wondered, was it worth it." Now
that he is back, and has brought back a cup, one of the richest
treasures every brought back from Africa, Mr.Johnson, facing his
fellow collgues and geoligist, says "yes it was worth it."
(Note: Although the role behaviour is not consistent with the role
name, we assume an appropriate exploratory role is designated in-
spite of the author's limited vocabulary.)
ICR) Cue-Response sequence. There must be two separate statements in
the stoiy (although they might occur in the same sentence) which refer
to a cue and to a response.
The cue can be any event which is specifically described as strange,
unusual, or novel and can be either environmental or intrapsychic,
except that sudden changes in the environment are often clearly unexpected
and can be scored without being specifically described as
unexpected. Sometimes statements like "He was struck by the idea
that..." occur and these are scored. Reference to objects which are
culturally defined as strange etc. is satisfactory evidence for a cue.
A need, wish, want or desire to know or learn can also function as a
cue. There are two broad classes of responses which complete the
sequence: one is overt, the other covert. The first is composed of
instrumental acts (other than perceptual or cognitive acts) such as
manipulation of objects, asking questions, bodily movements towards
but not away from the cue stimulus, any type of experimentation, or
any attempt to remove uncertainty (caused by the introduction of the
cue) through the gathering of more information. Covert responses
include excitement, surprise, need to know or find out, or the arousal
of a long terra interest in a specific class of objects or ideas due
to the introduction of the cue. It is important to distinguish
between a general state of excitement or surprise and a fear reaction
(which is a contrary indication). The crucial difference is between
approach and avoidance orientations and can usually be determined
from the nature of subsequent activity.
The important point in scoring this category of imagery is that
two sets of evidence must be identified. Both cue and response must
be present in the story. The order in which the evidence occurs is
of no importance provided that there is a stimulus-response time
sequence. The two sets of evidence need not be entirely independent:
the unexpectedness of an event can sometimes be inferred in part from
the nature of the response and the instrumentality of response might
be inferred partly from the novelty of the stimulus. However, there
roust always be some independent evidence of both cue and response.
11. He could be a college professor discussing something new at
his private office with someone else who might know more about
that ob.iect in his hand: that he might not know about. After
he gets his information he will right up about and tell it to
his class or give a lecture on it and compare it with something
else a lot more familiar.
12. Joe Smith was a expert skin diver, but one day he ran into
some trouble. While diving for a mysterious anicent lost
treasure box, supposely on the ship Lulu Bell, which went down
in 1784-, he came upon a giant squid (you know what I mean) and
it attacked him. Fighting with all his might was useless
against this sea monster, until he managed to take out a flair
gun which squids hated the flash from it. With all his remaining
strength he shoot it four times and the squid disappeared.
Joe then after a few days rest returned to the bottom and
started to search again. By nightfall he found is treasure
and lived happily ever after.
13. An underwater diver who does it for his hobby stumbles
across .a reck ship or something and he is going to have а look..
While he is looking he could find something very interesting
and spend a little time fooling around with. After he gets
home he would call the coast guard and tell them all about
and ask if he could keep the part he wanted.
Satisfaction of any of the major imagery criteria is sufficient
to determine the presence of curiosity imagery, provided that none of
the contrary indications described below is found. Presence or
аbзепсе of curiosity imagery is the most important distinction which
can be made with the scoring system. However, we are able to dis-
tinguish further various degrees of curiosity evident in TAT stories.
Each story can be scored on a five point scale by combining the scori-
ing of major categories, minor categories and contrary indications.
The method of combining categories is not one of simple addition and
it is necessary to maintain the distinction between major and minor
categories in order to obtain a total, or scale, score.
Minor Imagery Criteria
There are three minor categories of imagery which are really subcategories
in that the criteria for them comprise partial definitions
of some major categories. The category Ix (intrapsychic response of
excitement etc.) can be scored from evidence which would provide part
of the basis for scoring curiosity imagery CR. Similarly, Ov (overt
instrumental acts) and Si (strange or interesting stimulus) have
criteria which are identical with part of the definitions of exploratory
role behaviour (EB) and cue-response sequence (CR). If no major
category is scored but the criteria for one or more of the minor
categories are satisfied we have incomplete evidence of curiosity
(or "doubtful imagery") but note that this does not provide a compromise
for the scorer who is unable to decide whether imagery is
present or absent.) On the other hand, if a major category is scored
and there remains additional evidence of curiosity the total score can
be increased by scoring either other major categories or minor
The following minor imagery criteria should be applied in preference
to those of the major categories which they define in part
whenever the story contains independent evidence sufficient to score
any one of the major categories. This is part of the general principle
of maximizing the total score.
(Ix) Intra-psychic response of excitement. Criteria for this
category include those referring to covert events in the Cue-response
sequence category. The distinction between stimulus and response is
somewhat arbitrary here. Arousal of a need or desire to know might
be a response but it also acts as a stimulus. Descriptions of
behaviour which are culturally equivalent to specific descriptions of
a subjective state of excitement can be scored under this criterion —
e.g. "Ah...Let's see," or "Look! John. Look ! Look what's here!"
However, one should not infer excitement, surprise etc. from an
environmental event. In general, we include any statement of excitement
or surprise, or need, wish, want etc, to know or learn, or the
arousal of a long term or exploratory interest in a specific class
of ideas or objects.
14. Howard's grandfather was an old man, but not a sad one. He
knew of all the wonderful places in the world and he would tell
Howard all about them. This would amaze Howard and one day he
asked his grandfather how he knew about all these wonderful things
in the world.
grandfather Smith was happy to see that Howard was interested ,
so he took him into a small room in the attic of the Smith's house.
In this room were shelves and shelves of books. Howard was
anxious to learn about these books and of the stories they contained,
but because he wasn't old enough to read his grandfather
read to him And this was how they both spent many afternoons
until one sad day Howard's old grandfather died. With him died
the wonderful stories he would read. Howard found his grandfather
again three years later when he had learned how to the
books and stories that they both loved so much.
15. "What can be wrong with the formula, said the scientist.
"I've tried everything," he said. "Ah; but wait. I haven't
tried everything. My one more chance. Let's see Marvelous,
terrific. It works! I've done it! Now everybody will be
able to wash there dishes with an electric dish wahser.
1. (see above) "He wants to explore..."
6. (see above) "He wants to find out the source of it."
(Si) Interesting stimulus. The criteria for this category include
those for an environmental cue in the cue-response sequence category.
Description of an object, event, person or idea as strange, interesting,
unexpected, peculiar, novel, curious, etc. or reference to an object
which is culturally defined as having those properties should be scored
Si. If something or someone is said to be interesting or curious
(in the sense of peculiar or strange) we score Si, but if someone is
interested in or feels curious about such an object we score WI. This
Si category deals with the attributes of things whereas WI is concerned
with qualities of subjective states, and one should not be inferred
from the other.
16. A friend of mind, who is an Arciologest, gave a lecture on
what he found in the Holy Lands, He brought with him a vessel
which he said was over 3½ thousand years old. We looked it over
as he went on to tell that it came from a Town, which had many
such articles. He gave us more information and then left the
2. (see above) "...strange and full of new things..."
3. (see above) "...things...so unbelievable..."
5. (see above) "...an interesting object..."
8. (see above) "...some hidden secretj some strange being..."
(Ov) Overt instrumental acts. Instrumental acts other than those which
are perceptual or cognitive and which have the general purpose of finding
out something are scored for this category. Acts which would be
part of exploratory role behaviour (EB) if the role were designated
or overt instrumental responses which would complete a cue-response
sequence (CR) i f the cue were described are included and the scoring ,
Criteria for those acts under EB and CR can be applied here.
17. He could be a man like Tomas Edison discovering the light
and getting it to work. First he would study about the problems
if he could and then...prints of it and take notes while he is
experimenting and the picture could finally show what he looked
like after his work had been successfully completed after a
long hard time.
18. I picked up the piece of rock that was on the mantel I
guess that's what it was. I stood their holding the object
for the longest time. I think all together I looked at the
object for five days. My family thought I was crazy wasting
my time like that. My picture was in all the papers. I
finally realized what it was. It was a rock after all!
1. (see above) "...he will accumulate the equipment."
5. (see above) "Diving deeper and closer to it..."
14. (see above) "...he asked his grandfather how he knew..."
Some stories which contain curiosity imagery also have evidence
of disruptive anxiety* associated with the curiosity theme and would
be invalidly scored as evidence of curiosity if these contrary in-
dications were not taken into account. They are:
1. A fear reaction to the introduction of a novel stimulus or
to the situation in which it occurs provided that the fear I not over-
* It will be noted that the contrary indications are rather extreme
instances of various types of avoidance responses motivated by
anxiety. Just how far we could move from these extremes toward a
more general scoring of anxiety is a matter for further empirical
come. It could be specifically described or it could be an avoidance
response which is usually indicative of fea, but is not scored if
there is a later approach.
2. An outcome to the story which contains punishment imagery such
as death or destruction of something valuable to a person who has performed
curiosity behaviour in the story.
3.An affective tone which is predominantly negative—despair,
disappointment, guilt, hopelessness. There must be no statements of
4. An instrumental act which involves an inquiring person ina
dependency relationship to another person such that the act is an
avoidance of insecurity. This usually consists of a child asking a
question for the purpose of gaining attention or approval of an
authority figure before carrying out exploratory behaviour.
We are not concerned with the number of contrary indications in
a story, but only with whether or not any are present.
19. Dr. J. P. Bridgewater, alious Dr Jenkle was once a mad
scientist who was studying how to shrink human bodies to the
size of a mouse. He worked hard in his study trying for
years. But the day he was going to try it on someone the
police caught him and sent him to an mental institution.
Where he's still trying.
20. Way back in 1801Tony a man of 21 lived a happy normal
life he was always curious as a boy and when he heard the
another man was trying to invent a telephone he imagined he
could to. He proceeded and failed many times during he next
year meanwhile the other man had given up. When he finally
perfected it he showed it to his best friend Roger. Roger
was amazed for he know Tony would be highly regarded in their
town. On the way to the patent office Roger pushed Tony into
the path of an oncoming buggy. On killing him Roger had been
regarded as the inventor and every time he looks as the picture
taken of him at work he knows he will be punished.
(Note: Story 19 is scored Co ("...studying how to shrink human bodies
..."). Story 20 is scored CR "always curious...heard that another man
was trying invent...imagined he could to"—arousal of long term
interest, and Ix "Roger was amazed... "; both actors are associated
with curiosity imagery and both are subject to punishment.)
Total (or scale) score
There is a maximum score of four (4) for each story and the score
is not obtained by simple addition. It may be read from Table 2 and
is found by applying the following principles:
(a) If no imagery is scored the total is zero (0) whether or not
any contrary indications are scored.
(b) Contrary indications reduce to one (1) the total score for
stories containing major categories of imagery and to zero (0) the
total for those with only minor categories.
(c) Minor categories alone, regardless of how many are scored,
are incomplete evidence and give a total of one (1).
(d) Any one, but only one, major category contributes two(2)
points to the total score and designates the presence of curiosity
(e) Other major and minor categories contribute one (1) addition-
al point each up to a maximum total of four (4).
The overall total (test score) is given by summing the scale
scores of several stories. The test usually consists of four stories,
with test scores ranging from 0 to16, but this may be varied within
the limits of acceptable reliability.
Curiosity TAT Scale Scor
Heading for table columns.......Number Major Categories Scored
...............................................0 1 2 3-5
Number of 0 0,0 2,1 3,1 4,1
Minor Categories 1 1,0 3,1 4,1 4,1
Scored 2,3 1,0 4,1 4,1 4,1
If any contrary indications are scored the total score
a story is given by the second figure in each cell of the
table; otherwise, the first figure is the total score for
the story. The total for the test is obtained by adding
the scores for all stories.
Beswick, D. G. (1964). Theory and measurement of human curiosity. Social Relations (Social Psychology). Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University. PhD: 170.