Accepted: 5 January 2022
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2022
1 Center for English as a Lingua Franca, Tamagawa University, 6 chome 1,
194-0041 Tamagawagakuen, Tokyo, Machida, Japan
2 Department of Languages, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, 126 Pracha
Uthit Rd, Khwaeng Bang Mot, Khet Thung Khru, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon,
10140 Bangkok, Thailand
A Classroom-Based Study on the Antecedents of Epistemic
Curiosity in L2 Learning
SachikoNakamura1· HayoReinders2· PornapitDarasawang2
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research
This classroom-based study investigated the antecedents of epistemic curiosity among 25
Thai university students in an English oral communication course. Using a whole-class
survey and focus group interview, we recursively asked the students to describe a time in
class when they experienced epistemic curiosity and the reasons behind it. A modied ver-
sion of constant comparative analysis suggested seven thematic factors as the antecedents
of epistemic curiosity and positive aect linked to its experience. Utilizing descriptions
of the lessons kept in the teacher’s record, we provide contextualized accounts of how
and why the students experienced epistemic curiosity in class. We conclude by oering
pedagogical suggestions for creating learning environments that inspire language learners’
Keywords Epistemic curiosity · Emotion · Classroom-based study
Epistemic curiosity is a type of epistemic emotion that learners can experience in relation
to knowledge-generating cognitive tasks (Pekrun et al., 2016). It motivates students to gain
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research2
new ideas, learn, and resolve intellectual problems (Litman, 2005, 2008; Litman & Jimer-
son, 2004; Litman & Spielberger, 2003; Markey & Loewenstein, 2014; Shin et al., 2019).
In recent years, epistemic curiosity has received increasing attention in the elds of general
education and educational psychology, showing its benecial roles in learning (Arnone et
al., 2011; Eren & Coskun, 2016; Gurning & Siregar, 2017; Kang et al., 2009; Rotgans &
Schmidt, 2014). In the eld of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) on the other hand, epis-
temic curiosity is an under-researched emotion. Despite an ongoing call for investigation
into a wider range of emotions (Nakamura, 2018; Dewaele, 2015; Dörnyei & Ryan, 2015),
SLA has long limited emotion research to anxiety, and to a much lesser extent, enjoyment
(e.g., Dewaele & MacIntyre 2014; Dewaele et al., 2018) and boredom (e.g., Nakamura et
al., 2021a; Pawlak et al., 2020).
Epistemic curiosity has been widely described as “the drive to know’” (Berlyne, 1954,
p. 187). Based on previous work on curiosity (e.g., Berlyne 1954; Loewenstein, 1994) and
a series of his own studies (Collins et al., 2004; Litman, 2005; Litman & Jimerson, 2004;
Litman & Spielberger, 2003). Litman has dened epistemic curiosity as “a desire for knowl-
edge that motivates individuals to learn new ideas, eliminate information gaps, and solve
intellectual problems” (Litman, 2008, p. 1586). Epistemic curiosity, based on contemporary
curiosity models, is a multifaceted construct consisting of distinctive yet highly correlated
dimensions. Berlyne (1960) initially proposed diversive and specic dimensions (see, e.g.,
Berlyne, 1966), which Litman & Spielberger (2003) later found to be highly correlated
(0.56). A year later Litman & Jimerson (2004) introduced a new dimension of epistemic
curiosity, the feeling of deprivation. Taken together, Litman (2005) proposed that epistemic
curiosity involves two dimensions, labeled as Interest-type (I-type) and Deprivation-type
(D-type). I-type epistemic curiosity, which corresponds to Berlyne (1960)’s diverse and
specic dimensions, refers to “a desire for new information anticipated to increase pleasur-
able feelings of situational interest,” whereas D-type epistemic curiosity involves “a motive
to reduce unpleasant experiences of feeling deprived of new knowledge” (Lauriola et al.,
2015, p. 202). Accordingly, epistemic curiosity should be distinguished from other types of
curiosity such as interpersonal curiosity (Litman & Pezzo, 2007), self-curiosity (Aschieri et
al., 2018), and social curiosity (Renner, 2006). We also subscribe to the notion that interest
and curiosity are two distinct phenomena (Eren & Coskun, 2016; Markey & Loewenstein,
2014). Interest can be dened as “a psychological state that involves a desire to become
engaged in an activity or know more, in general, about a subject” (Markey & Loewenstein,
2014, p. 231). This implies that interest most likely, but not necessarily, involves positive
aect. Curiosity on the other hand, could involve an aversive feeling generated by depriva-
tion of knowledge. Another feature that distinguishes curiosity from interest is that curiosity
often emerges from an information gap, whereas individuals can feel interest without such
Educational studies have indicated a wide range of positive learning variables associated
with epistemic curiosity, including school performance (Eren & Coskun, 2016), engage-
ment (Arnone et al., 2011), perceived value (Rossing & Long, 1981), knowledge acquisition
(Rotgans & Schmidt, 2014), self-regulation, (Lauriola et al., 2015), memory enhancement
(Kang et al., 2009), and goal orientation (Eren, 2009). Furthermore, epistemic curiosity is
suggested to have the potential to reduce boredom (Berlyne, 1960; Eren & Coskun 2016;
Keller, 1987). In fact, a study by Eren & Coskun (2016) showed a mediating role of epis-
temic curiosity in the relationship between boredom and graded performance. This is a useful
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 3
insight, as boredom is an increasingly recognized issue in L2 language learning (Nakamura
et al., 2021a, b; Pawlak et al., 2020). SLA research has also contributed a small number of
studies that have shown a positive role for epistemic curiosity in L2 learning, such as its
positive link to willingness to communicate, reading comprehension, L2 development in
linguistic, social-cultural, and pragmatic areas (Gurning & Siregar, 2017; Mahmoodzadeh
& Khajavy, 2018; Takkaç-Tulgar, 2018). These positive roles highlight the importance of
understanding what makes learners curious. Although there are limited data examining this
question, extant theories of curiosity and recent empirical work provide insights into the
antecedents of epistemic curiosity.
Theoretically, epistemic curiosity has by and large been argued to be evoked by dis-
crepant information perceived by individuals, originally suggested by the information gap
theory by Loewenstein (1994). At the same time, dierent aspects have been emphasized
by dierent theories. For example, drive theorists (e.g., Loewenstein 1994) argued that the
uncertainty arising from this information gap can be an unpleasant experience, the reduction
of which thus is rewarding. Optimal arousal theorists (e.g., Spielberger & Starr 1994) argued
that when this experience involves interest rather than uncertainty, curiosity induction is
rewarding. Reecting on these views, Litman & Jimerson (2004) proposed that individuals
experience epistemic curiosity when they perceive to have been deprived of information and
wish for the reduction or elimination of their ignorance as well as when they simply enjoy
learning new things without particularly experiencing the deciency of the information.
Boekaerts and Pekrun (2015) and Pekrun et al. (2016) also advocate the notion of discrep-
ant information while adding another construct, learner appraisal, as a proximal antecedent.
They postulate that students can experience epistemic curiosity when they are engaged in
cognitive tasks that are novel and non-routine, which contain unexpected information and
cognitive incongruity. They can also experience epistemic curiosity as a result of giving
positive appraisals of the cognitive tasks.
Contrary to the extensive theoretical arguments on what can evoke learners’ curiosity
(Arnone et al., 2011; Litman, 2005; Shin et al., 2019), empirical investigations into the
antecedents of epistemic curiosity are surprisingly scarce. One of few is a study by Rossing
(1981) with adult learners enrolled in community courses. His results showed a statisti-
cally signicant positive correlation between perceived value and epistemic curiosity. This
perceived value was also found in a study by Palmer (2018) who investigated curiosity
experience among 20 tertiary students enrolled in a teacher education program in Australia.
He used interviews and a questionnaire and found that personal interest in the topic, con-
dence for the subject, perceived value of the subject, liking the teacher, expected enjoyment,
expected understanding of the lesson, and expected interestingness of the lesson as factors
inuencing curiosity. Zhao et al., (2011) investigated the antecedents of curiosity among
high school students in China from the self-determination theory perspective using a survey.
Their structural equation modeling showed that teacher support, peer encouragement, and
self-ecacy had a signicant inuence on the students’ curiosity in using the Internet.
Curiosity in language learning has been investigated only recently by a handful of stud-
ies. In a study by Mahmoodzadeh and Khajavy (2018), antecedents of language learning
curiosity, dened as “an aective-cognitive variable specic to language learning which
reects an inquiry-driven interest and desire to learn and use a foreign language” (p. 13)
were investigated through a content analysis of the participants’ responses to an open-ended
item in the questionnaire. They thematized the ndings into three categories; self-related
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research4
(e.g., personally curious about learning L2 grammar and vocabulary), teacher-related (e.g.,
kind, encouraging, motivated, and interesting teachers), and peer-related (e.g., curious about
how peers processed L2 and made progress over time). Takkaç-Tulgar (2018) discussed
several elements of the learning situation that contributed to curiosity experiences. One of
them was the specic learning environment that oered exposure to the target language.
She reected that the participants were exposed to a number of opportunities to observe the
ways in which the target language was used both inside and outside the classroom, and this
environment raised their curiosity to learn more about the language. Another was the social
and cultural characteristics of the target community. She explained that the participants had
a great number of opportunities to learn about the social and cultural side of the community
while learning the target language, and this became a source for their curiosity to learn more
about these context-specic aspects of the target society.
What the above literature highlights is rstly the scarcity of research into epistemic curi-
osity in language learning despite its great potential benets indicated in research in educa-
tion. Secondly, it points to the importance of contextualized approaches to understanding
the antecedents of epistemic curiosity. Looking across the studies investigating antecedents
of epistemic curiosity (e.g., Takkaç-Tulgar, 2018), we can gain a richer and more compre-
hensive picture about how and why learners increase curiosity toward certain objects and
topics. This suggests the importance of delving into not only the subject of the curiosity
(e.g., what learners felt curious about) but also the reasons behind it (e.g., why learners have
become curious about the subject). Such insights can be of particular value in creating the
type of learning environment that generates learners’ epistemic curiosity. This article aims
to contribute to the further understanding of L2 learners’ epistemic curiosity by reporting on
a small-scale classroom-based study that investigated the antecedents of epistemic curiosity
among Thai university students studying in an English oral communication course. The fol-
lowing research question was addressed:
What antecedents of epistemic curiosity in the L2 classroom do learners report?
Context and Participants
This study was conducted as part of a two-phased, 15-week practitioner research project
to enhance the rst author’s students’ boredom regulation through strategy instruction in
her English oral communication (EOC) course. The students’ epistemic curiosity experi-
ences were investigated during the rst phrase (i.e., from Class 1 through Class 7), for
ethical, theoretical, and methodological reasons. By including epistemic curiosity, shown to
be associated with positive learning experiences (Eren & Coskun, 2016; Kang et al., 2009;
Lauriola et al., 2015), we sought to avoid exclusive discussions on boredom, which may
involve negative learning experiences (Pawlak et al., 2020; Zawodniak et al., 2017). Related
to this point, we aimed to create an environment where students could talk about both nega-
tive and positive aspects of the lessons associated with each emotion. Lastly, based on the
literature that epistemic curiosity has the potential to reduce boredom (Berlyne, 1960; Erena
& Coskun, 2016; Keller, 1987), we intended to utilize the information about epistemic curi-
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 5
osity experiences to provide context-specic, personalized strategy instruction in the second
phase1. For the investigation in this second phase, see Nakamura et al. (2021b).
The students were second-year Thai university students (16 males and nine females)
majoring in Computer Science-Multimedia (n = 15) or Engineering (n = 10). Their L2 pro-
ciency was between B1 to B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference based on
the mastery skills of the English courses that the students had completed the previous year.
The EOC course was structured around the course textbook (Unlock Listening and Speak-
ing Skills Level 4, Cambridge, 2015) and a range of communicative tasks and projects. The
class met once a week for three hours.
Before embarking on the data collection, we sought to develop a shared understanding of
epistemic curiosity. In order to achieve this, in Class 2 the rst author held a short session
on epistemic curiosity. She rst introduced epistemic curiosity, by using the general descrip-
tion, as the drive to know. Next, she illustrated the two dimensions (i.e., interest and depri-
vation) through visual aids (e.g., online information about popular comic books worldwide).
She and her students then agreed that epistemic curiosity is the drive to know which can rise
from interest or deprivation of knowledge. This served as a working denition of epistemic
curiosity, based on which data were collected.
We used three instruments, a whole-class survey, focus group interview, and teacher
record, to recursively collect data and triangulate them. The whole-class questionnaire was
used to collect data to generate patterns and salient themes as the antecedents of epistemic
curiosity. Focus group interviews were conducted to gain further insights into students’
experiences of epistemic curiosity. The teacher record was used to complement the stu-
dents’ reports referring to certain task names or textbook units. Each instrument is further
In order to elicit students’ epistemic curiosity experiences in the classroom and the reasons
behind it, we administered a semi-structured questionnaire four times in Classes 3, 4, 6, and
7 by using Google Forms. At the end of each class, students were asked to think about a time
in class when they felt curious and describe the experience by lling in the following blanks:
In today’s class, I felt curious when ___ because ___ .
We sought to gain data sucient enough to be analyzed, and at the same time, we were
concerned with the burden on the students continuously responding to the questionnaire
after the three-hour class nished. Prior to the project, we had conducted a series of pilot
studies and settled on this particular prompt as being both succinct and accurate enough to
gain the information we sought. The students were encouraged to use whichever language
1 One such example was to show the contrasting experiences reported by students where positive appraisals
lead to the experience of epistemic curiosity, accompanied by positive learning experiences, as opposed to
where negative appraisals lead to the experience of boredom, resulting in disengagement from the learning
opportunity. This example was used when introducing the impact of appraisal and reappraisal strategies for
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research6
(English, Thai) that they felt comfortable with. Except for a few cases, the reports were
written in English. Students were also reminded of an option to state that they did not
experience epistemic curiosity in class. The rst author read the students’ responses every
time the questionnaire was returned. Whenever she was uncertain about her understanding
of students’ descriptions, she went to talk to students in the following class and asked for
clarication or elaboration.
Focus Group Interview
The rst author conducted focus group interviews with ve (three males and two females)
of the students who volunteered to participate in the discussions. Three of them were from
the mechanical engineering department, and they had known each other for a year. Two of
them were from the chemical engineering department, and they had known each other for
a year. Five sessions were conducted after class. In the sessions, the rst author asked the
students to share their epistemic curiosity experiences, namely, when, how, and why they
experienced it during the particular class after which the interview was held. The discus-
sions were done in English, with the presence of an interpreter, a native Thai speaker, who
oered language support when there was a diculty in communication.
After class every week, the rst author entered detailed information about the class into a
teacher record using a Google Doc. The record contained information such as classroom
activities, textbook sections, the use of supplemental materials. This information helped
to specify and provide further information to the tasks that students mentioned in their stu-
dents’ epistemic curiosity reports.
A total of 91 responses (hereafter, quotations) were collected from the questionnaire. They
were entered into ATLAS.ti Version 8 for Mac, and a modied form of constant comparative
analysis (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2007) was used to analyze the data. Constant comparative
analysis is a qualitative data analysis method that uses data-driven approaches to gener-
ate a set of themes by coding and analyzing the data simultaneously. In our analysis, the
rst author read through the entire data set while retrieving the necessary information from
the classroom record when a particular classroom task was mentioned in the report. Next,
descriptive coding and in vivo coding (Saldaña, 2009) was used to assign each response
with as many codes as possible that represent ideas, elements, and concepts expressed in the
quotations. She went through this coding cycle several times and assigned as many codes
as possible to each quotation while discussing with the other authors. She also kept ana-
lytic memos (Saldaña, 2009) recording code choices and operational denitions; emergent
patterns, categories, and themes; possible networks; related existing theories; and related
concerns and questions. Next, the three authors discussed possible thematizations of these
codes. Using pattern coding (Saldaña, 2009), the rst author grouped the codes into themes
and constructs, discussed them with the two authors, and made modications until the three
authors reached an agreement on thematization. The memos were also utilized during the
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 7
discussions. Code descriptors were then created for a reliability test. Twenty quotations
(20% > entire data set) were coded by an applied linguistics researcher who was familiar
with coding but not involved in this study. The agreement (Krippendor’s ⍺ = 0.933) was
above the required value (Krippendor, 2004). Using the thematic factors emerged from
this questionnaire data analysis, the transcripts were read through and coded.
The analysis of the survey data generated seven thematic factors as the antecedents of
epistemic curiosity (underlying desire, positive appraisal, peer, cognitive puzzle, novelty,
comprehensibility, exploration of the future self) and positive aect linked to it (liking
and positive emotions). Table 1 lists the seven factors together with their representative
quotations, maintaining students’ original wording. Occasionally, two or more factors were
mentioned in one quotation. Thus, frequency counts (i.e., the number of quotations that
mentioned the antecedent) as well as the number of students who mentioned the antecedent
are reported in the table. Description of the classroom activities and materials mentioned in
the quotations is provided in the table notes.
The analysis indicated that individual student’s desires, related to either L2 or communica-
tion, were the most frequently mentioned antecedent. L2 related desires included improving
L2 skills and performing well in class. For example, students reported that they felt curious
about what was presented to them in the lessons (e.g., textbook units, videos, PowerPoint
slides) because they wanted to gain more L2 knowledge and improve their L2 skills or
hoped to use the resources to perform well in class. Communication-related desires included
the desire to express and share feelings, opinions, and stories with peers, understand and
be understood, as well as choose appropriate responses. Students described, for example,
that they were curious about what their conversation partner was telling them because they
wanted to respond to the partner and tell their opinions.
The second most frequently discussed factor was learners’ positive appraisal. Students
explained that they had become curious about the learning content that they found interest-
ing, useful, and self-relevant. For example, students reported being curious about the infor-
mation in a video because it was about tips on studying for exams. Students also reported
experiencing epistemic curiosity while studying with the textbook because they found the
content useful for their subsequent performance, such as useful phrases for debates.
The third most frequently mentioned factor was peer. It was shown that the contents and the
L2 produced by peers generated epistemic curiosity. Students explained that they wanted
to know more about their peers, were curious to learn about peers’ ideas of given topics for
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research8
Table 1 Thematic factors as the antecedents of epistemic curiosity
Factor FC* n** Representative quotations
1 Underlying desire 27 21
1-1 L2 related 16 12 I felt curious when I write about my new innovation
about using English in daily lifea because I wanna prac-
tice to present in English and use in correct grammar
and good accent.
11 9 I felt curious when my friends are saying because I
want to know what my friends are saying and be able
to express my feeling.
2 Positive appraisal 16 11 I felt curious when I learn about elevator pitch because
it very interesting.
3 Peer 13 9
3-1 Contents 10 7 I felt curious when Before/during/after exams activityb
because I’m curious what my friends are going to
3-2 L2 3 2 I felt curious when another student will speaking be-
cause I want to know how to speak uently in English.
4Cognitive puzzle 9 7 I felt curious when Unlock Unit 3c because I can’t
remember how to use the conjunction some words +
phase but some words + sentence/phase.
5 Novelty 7 7 I felt curious when elevator pitch because it was a new
topic to me.
6 Comprehensibility 4 4 I felt curious when I was watching video about 10
things we should do before examsd because the topic is
not too dicult and I can understand more than 60%.
7Exploration of the
3 3 I felt curious when I was doing the speaking task which
the topic is Your Dream Jobe because I have a question
with myself. That is “what is my dream job actually?”
Note. FC* = Frequency Counts (i.e., the number of quotations that mentioned the antecedent)
n** = The number of students who mentioned the antecedent.
a This activity was to suggest means to improve L2 skills. Students were given preparation time to choose
one aspect of L2 learning (speaking, vocabulary, etc.) and present the idea in a way t hat their classmates
would be interested in trying.
b This activity was to learn about connecting events using t ime expressions (e.g., before, after). As the last
stage of this activit y, each student created sentences to describe what they usually do before, during, and
after a n examination and presented this in a group.
c This unit introduced how to use adverbs and connectors to describe events in sequence. The class rst
read the explanations with example sentences. The teacher also added that cer tain words can only be used
with noun phrases while others ca n be used to connect clauses. The st udents t hen completed a ll-in-the-
blank exercise in the textbook.
d This video was played as the introduction to the time expression activity discussed above. A speaker in
the video t alked about what students should and should not do before examinations.
e This activity i nvolved talking about dream jobs. St udents discussed in pairs what they would li ke to do
after g raduating from university.
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 9
discussion. Students also reported that they wanted to study why the classmate could speak
so uently and learn from them, such as their word choice and grammar use. In such reports,
admiration for peers was often expressed. Students wrote that they wanted to “think like”
and “become like” their peers as the reasons for them to become curious about the peers’
output. Other times, students explained that they wanted to know how similar or dierent
their opinions were.
The fourth factor was a cognitive puzzle, typically evoked from solving problems in the
textbook that contained unknown words or newly learned target language features. Students
reported that they wanted to gure out how to solve the quizzes in the textbook. Some
students more specically pinpointed that they felt epistemic curiosity when the class was
about to check the answers in the quizzes.
Novelty was identied to have played an important role in the emergence of epistemic curi-
osity. Students wrote they experienced epistemic curiosity when they were presented with
topics, activities, and tasks, because they were new. They described such experiences as “I
have never done before” and “it makes me feel excited.”
Being able to understand given content (e.g., videos, audio, texts) was provided as the rea-
son to want to know more about it. For example, a student wrote that she felt curious while
watching a short video clip and explained it was because she was able to understand the
speaker’s language. Students also discussed comprehensibility while listening to their peers
and their teacher, such as “when I understand what teacher or friends talk” and “understand
the vocabulary or conversations.” They further explained that by being able to understand
the input, they would know how to respond.
Exploration of Future Self
An exploration of uncertain ideas, typically initiated by tasks, was shown to be the anteced-
ent of epistemic curiosity. Students described their epistemic curiosity arising when they
Table 2 Positive aect involved in epistemic curiosity experiences
Positive Aect FC* n** Representative quotations
Positive emotions 6 6 I felt curious when I was
debate with friends because
I feel excited.
Liking 5 5 I felt curious when listen the
short story and answer the
question because I like it
Note. FC* = Frequency Counts (i.e., the number of quotations that mentioned the antecedent)
n** = The number of students who mentioned the antecedent.
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research10
were asked to think about topics that were relevant to them but that they had not yet formu-
lated clear ideas about, such as their future plans and dream jobs.
Positive Aﬀect Involved in Epistemic Curiosity Experiences
It emerged from the analysis that positive aect was frequently expressed in the descrip-
tion of epistemic curiosity experiences. Such aect was composed of positive emotions and
liking, as shown in Table 2. Students explained that they experienced epistemic curiosity
during classroom activities or while performing tasks because they felt excited, happy, or
enjoyment. Similarly, liking a given topic or task was also mentioned as the reason for
experiencing epistemic curiosity.
These elements discussed above, except for the factor, exploration of the future-self,
also emerged from the analysis of group interview data. Two excerpts are presented here to
illustrate how these elements appeared in the students’ discussions. The rst one, in Table 3,
is from the interview session that took place after Class 7. The students all referred to one of
the speaking activities, debate, that they had engaged in the class, and expressed how they
experienced epistemic curiosity during this activity.
Table 3 Focus group interview students’ discussion about their epistemic curiosity during debates
Transcript Emerging factor
G: Debate in my class was my favorite. It was fun. Positive appraisal
Y: Me, too. I felt curious during the debate in the table.
P: [In the activity] we learned about persuasive language, and
we have to debate to each other in the class, so I want to
express the beautiful and perfect words to debate. And I L2 related desire
don’t have enough knowledge to express. So I searched in
the dictionary, not only the meaning of it but I also searched L2 related desire
how to use this word in a sentence.
N: For me, I love the debate. My friend besides me, he says Positive aect
everything he thinks about smartphone and talk everything. I Positive aect
love the scene. I love the argument with my friends. Talk
together. Oh it’s so much fun. Positive appraisal
N: I felt curious to know what he said, to agree or what Peers
should I say, to persuade. I didn’t do this before. This is my Communication-related desire
rst time to debate in English. It makes me curious. Novelty
T: I felt curious during debate because I really would like to
know what he thinks so much, so I try to listen and feel Peers
curious about my friends’ thinking. So all of the debate
makes me curious so much.
G: I love to hear other ideas and I love to share my ideas, too. Positive aect
I want to know others’ ideas. And I want to share mine, too. Peer
Y: For me the activity made me curious because in our table
we have to separate A and B, and I have to debate with other Communication-related desire
group, so I want to know what they come up with, so that I
can debate, so I feel more curious. Communication-related desire
Note. Alphabets are used as a replacement of the focus group interview students’ nicknames
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 11
The discussion above captures students’ curiosity toward peers’ production, which was
generated by their desire to discuss, communicate, and debate with peers. This type of desire
also led a student to search for L2 words to use in her speech. Positive aect was also
expressed along with the experience of epistemic curiosity.
The second excerpt in Table 4 is from the interview session held after Class 6. Students
discussed their epistemic curiosity experiences while watching a video in which a speaker
discussed 10 things students should and should not do before the exam.
The discussion above captures the students’ epistemic curiosity toward the video, of
which they made positive appraisal for its usefulness, relevance, and novelty. The discussion
shows that these positive appraisals were linked to the experience of epistemic curiosity.
This small-scale classroom-based study has demonstrated that students experience epistemic
curiosity in response to various characteristics of classroom activities and peers, by identify-
ing seven thematic factors as its antecedents. Such antecedents and students’ descriptions of
their epistemic curiosity experiences seem to largely reect extant theories of curiosity and
previous empirical work. For example, the nding that students felt curious about learning
materials that they appraised positively lends support to claims by Boekaerts and Pekrun
(2015) and Pekrun et al. (2016) that students can experience epistemic curiosity when they
are engaged in knowledge-generating tasks and that epistemic curiosity can emerge from
their positive appraisals of such tasks. Furthermore, this nding is in line with the control-
value theory of achievement emotions (Pekrun, 2006; Pekrun et al., 2007), according to
which learners’ control and value appraisals about their learning activities and outcomes
are the primary antecedents of achievement-related emotions. Although epistemic curiosity
is not included in the achievement emotions proposed by Pekrun (2006), this nding indi-
cates that the theory may apply to epistemic curiosity in the L2 classroom learning context.
Furthermore, the importance of usefulness and self-relevance in driving curiosity has been
recognized in extant theories of curiosity (Dubey & Griths, 2020) and been documented
in previous empirical work (Dubey et al., 2019; Rossing & Long, 1981). Students’ per-
Table 4 Focus group interview students’ discussion about their epistemic curiosity ehile watching a video
Transcript Emerging factor
N: The video was fun. Positive appraisal
Yeah <everyone agrees>
P: In video it presents many ways that we can learn from it Positive appraisal
and it’s concise and short. They have good present.
T: It’s a good presentation right.
Y: For me I like the content of the video because it contains Positive aect
the facts that I never know before and it makes me realize Novelty
the points that I never think about it before.
T: For me, too. It’s useful for me too because that time is Positive appraisal
coming to me soon.
N: It’s like your opinion. I see that’s something I do but the
video says we shouldn’t do.
Note. Alphabets are used as a replacement of the focus group interview students’ nicknames
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research12
ceived value as one of the primal antecedents also supports the recent research showing that
attribute-specic anticipatory utility determines individuals’ information-seeking behavior
(Kobayashi et al., 2019; Sharot & Sunstein, 2020).
The second most frequently mentioned antecedent, peers, seems to resemble I-type epis-
temic curiosity in the dual dimensions of epistemic curiosity proposed by Litman (Litman,
2005; Litman & Jimerson, 2004). Students explained, as the reasons for becoming curious,
that they were interested in learning more about peers’ ideas and L2 use. This nding further
corroborates recent empirical work on curiosity that has documented the social nature of
curiosity (Dubey et al., 2021; Paranjape et al., 2018). Through cognitive puzzles, typically
evoked by textbook exercises, students in this study appeared to have experienced D-type
epistemic curiosity. Interestingly however, their experiences seem to dier from the theoret-
ical description of D-type epistemic curiosity, which is viewed as an uncomfortably intense
“need-like” state involving unpleasant and aversive feelings of uncertainty (Lauriola et al.,
2015, p. 203; Litman 2008; Mussel, 2010). When students discussed their epistemic curios-
ity experiences in relation to wanting to know the answers in the textbook quizzes, their
provided reasons were that they liked or enjoyed learning English, that they were happy to
get correct answers, or that they wanted to improve their English skills. In other words, it
seems that their being deprived of knowledge was positively characterized by their general
interest in and positive feelings toward L2 learning.
The nding that comprehensibility was shown to be one of the antecedents, lends sup-
port to the self-determination theory perspective on epistemic curiosity (Zhao et al., 2011),
according to which epistemic curiosity can be enhanced by experiencing a sense of compe-
tence, i.e., being capable of performing a task. The nding about comprehensibility is also
consistent with theories of curiosity that consider the eect of task diculty on curiosity
(Dubey & Griths, 2020; Oudeyer et al., 2016) with empirical work showing that learners
are more curious about moderately dicult tasks (Geana et al., 2016; Ten et al., 2020).
This study appears to oer new insight into epistemic curiosity in L2 classroom learning,
that is, a striking role of individual students’ underlying desires behind the manifestation
of their epistemic curiosity. Toward the same object (e.g., a speaker) with which students
reported their epistemic curiosity experiences, they discussed varying reasons for becom-
ing curious. Some explained that they wanted to examine how a speaker was able to speak
so uently, while some explained that they wanted to compare their ideas with those of the
speaker. Some also elaborated that they wanted to fully understand what the speaker was
saying so that they could respond appropriately. This implies that it is not the unexpected
information or cognitive incongruity (Boekaerts & Pekrun, 2015; Pekrun et al., 2016) per
se that generates students’ epistemic curiosity, but it is the desire that individual students
hold for communication and their L2 development that drives them to learn more about
what they encounter in the L2 classroom. This further suggests the need to adopt more situ-
ated, context-specic approaches to understand ID factors (Ryan, 2020), inducing emotions.
Epistemic curiosity is an object-focused emotion, meaning that individuals experience epis-
temic curiosity to a certain object (i.e., information). At the same time, investigations should
not focus merely on the objects; they need to take into account why learners have experi-
enced epistemic curiosity toward the object in the rst place if the goal of the research is to
inform practice and suggest pedagogical implications to generate epistemic curiosity in the
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 13
Several limitations of this study need to be acknowledged. First, the antecedents were
generated from a small number of participants. Although we employed repeated data collec-
tion to capture various situations in the L2 classroom, some of the factors can be attributed
to the characteristics of the course in which this study was conducted. A bigger sample size
or longer data collection period may conrm the ndings from this study. It would also
be useful to attempt to replicate these ndings in another classroom and potentially with
another instructor. We also recognize the impact of the rst author’s dual teacher-researcher
roles in this study. Although we believe that the rst author was able to cultivate an open
relationship with the students, we recognize the possibility that students’ reports may not
be entirely bias-free. We also acknowledge the possible bias on the part of the rst author,
which may have aected the interpretation of the data, despite various means (e.g., repeated
discussions with the other authors, inter-rater reliability checking) taken to question her
viewpoints and enhance conrmability of the data interpretation. Despite its limitations, this
study oers several pedagogical implications. The antecedents identied in this study indi-
cate a range of approaches to creating learning environments that inspire students’ epistemic
curiosity. For example, teachers can provide tasks and topics that students nd interesting,
relevant, or useful for them, or present content in a way that generates cognitive puzzles.
Various communicative tasks that oer students opportunities to share and discuss ideas and
learn from each other can be a locus of epistemic curiosity, as indicated by this study. It is
also useful to be aware that individual learners’ motivation toward their L2 improvement
can play an important role in the emergence of epistemic curiosity. This implies that nding
out students’ goal orientations can be a good starting point to create a curiosity-generating
This study has oered contextualized accounts of how and why L2 learners experience epis-
temic curiosity in the classroom. The analysis of students’ reports on their epistemic curios-
ity experiences demonstrated how a range of factors in the L2 classroom such as tasks and
peers come into play in the emergence of epistemic curiosity and how individual learners’
desire for communication and L2 improvement fueled their curiosity. While a positive role
of epistemic curiosity has been researched in the elds of general education and educational
psychology, investigations into epistemic curiosity in L2 learning are scarce. We hope that
this study will generate interest in and further explorations of this positive emotion in the
eld of SLA.
List of Abbreviations
L2 Second/foreign language.
EOC English oral communication.
Authors’ Contributions This research was designed collaboratively by the three authors. Sachiko Nakamura
collected the data and took the leading role in the data analysis, and was a major contributor in writing the
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research14
manuscript. Pornapit Darasawang and Hayo Reinders contributed to the data analysis, from the initial coding
development to the nalization of the coding. All authors read and approved the nal manuscript.
Funding This study was part of a larger project, for which we received funding, titled “Research funding
for postgraduate student projects” from School of Liberal Arts, King Mongkut’s university of Technology
Thonburi. The funding was used for hiring an interpreter/translator for focus group interviews.
Availability of Data and Material NA.
Code Availability NA.
Conﬂicts of Interest/Competing Interests The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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