It was on the day before Neuromarketing exam, you can call it night as it was around 10:30 pm, Alok and I were studying when Teja banged into my room and asked if we were interested in earning some money. That was our end semester exam and we had a lot to study but then who says no to money? There was some cognitive science experiment about curiosity. There would be some questions on different topics, Teja told us, and we had to write the answers saying how much curious we were in the topic. We’d get Rs. 5 for every correct answer. He also told few questions and added that he’d earned Rs. 30. He told us answers of few questions he had attempted. (You can call this as cheating but certainty in earning some money made us greedy to earn more (Is ‘earning’ a right word here?).) But this was only one set of experiment. In another set, the participants would earn fixed amount of Rs. 50 irrespective of how many correct answers he/she gives.
Alok, Mihir (who also joined us for the experiment) and I walked down to academic block where the experiment was scheduled. Alok was excited as he recalled the answered Teja had told us. I said I would prefer to have fixed Rs. 50 set. Considering the variety of topics Teja was talking about I wondered if I could even attempt 10 questions correctly.
It was only when we reach there I realized that there were not two but three sets of experiment. (I wonder if Alok or Mihir realized it at that point.) All the three of us were provided with different instruction manuals and asked not to talk among ourselves. I read the instruction manual for my set of experiment only to find out that I was the luckiest one. I was going to earn Rs. 5 for every question I attempt irrespective of whether my answer is right or wrong. For a moment I thought to verify this with the girl who was conducting the experiment but then discarded the idea. After signing some form I was guided towards one of the PCs in the computer lab. First, I filled a Google form asking me about my name, program and contact number and then there was a check box for terms and conditions. I read all the terms and conditions not because that was a small paragraph but because I wanted to. I was doing a psychology course in which the professor had told that in psychological experiments it is ethical to deceive participants to certain extent in order to have accurate results. I read terms and conditions to understand that deception. Was this really a curiosity experiment or they are checking something else? Either the experiment was really about curiosity or I failed to find the deception point. I don’t know the truth but I’m curios to know.
The instructing girl ran a matlab code and the screen went blank. Then a trial question appeared. She told me to read the question carefully. There was no time limit. I had to read the question very carefully and then press enter. The next question was how curious I was to know the answer of that question- 1 being not at all, 5 being very much. Then another question would pop up. How certain I was about the answer I know. Only after that I had to write my answer. It doesn’t matter what I write, the moment I press enter top right corner of the screen showed that I had earned Rs. 5. The last phase of the question was the most interesting part. It’d show me the right answer of the question and then gives me option to read more information about it or skip to the next question. Press ‘i’ to get more information or enter to skip to the next question which follows the same pattern. Question, curiosity level, certainty level, right answer and option to know more.
There were six trial question adding Rs. 30 in my account (Later I realized that they cut out 30 bucks from the total amount I have earned.). The questions were on variety of topics and quite interesting. Which song of the Beatles is the most popular or most something? I don’t remember either the question or the answer. Doesn’t matter. I earned Rs. 5. Or what does the term ‘Dinosaur’ mean? I didn’t know that it meat ‘terrible lizards’ and technically the term is incorrect as dinosaurs have few features different from lizards/reptiles like the leg structure. Doesn’t matter. I earned Rs.5. In the TV show Friends, what’s the name of Phoebe’s twin sister? I had seen that episode twice but couldn’t remember the name at that time. Doesn’t matter. I earned Rs. 5.
Everything was fine till I had collected Rs. 90. After that the problem began as I got an option to quit the game. Before submitting the answer I got 2 seconds to press ‘x’ and quit the game. Of course it was optional and why would someone quit a game where he always wins. But then I’m dumb! Every time the screen said ‘Press x to exit the game’ I judged myself. I’m not quitting because I’m getting money for no efforts. Doesn’t that mean I’m being greedy? But then the questions were interesting! Which gas makes planet Neptune appear blue? I knew oxygen is a blue gas. I was certain that it was not the right answer but I had nothing else in my mind. The correct answer is methane which absorbs red light and reflects blue and the planet it named so because Neptune is Greek God of sea.
Curiosity versus greed. I was trapped in a landslide. I wondered if the experiment is actually about greediness. Or maybe the motivation. I had motivation to attempt all the questions (as that gives me money) and not to know more about it (pressing ‘i’ doesn’t give me anything but information). But then I wanted to know and I didn’t want to be greedy. I found an optimal solution. I looked at Alok and Mihir, both busy in answering their questions, and decided to quit experiment when both of them are finished. But still, every time I saw the option to quit I felt guilty for being motivated only with a little amount of money, I felt guilty for being greedy, I felt guilty for getting something which I don’t deserve. I don’t deserve money for typing some random stuff and pressing enter key. Oh, how long I waited for Alok and Mihir to finish their experiments.
By the time both of them were finished with their experiments, I had earned Rs. 140. I decided to go till 15o and then leave. I was on 145 when the instructor came, put her hand on my back and said, “take your time.” Maybe she knew what I was thinking. Just because of that I thought to be in the experiment for some more time but couldn’t go beyond 155 bucks. The guilt was too heavy after that.
I came out to find Alok and Mihir discussing. Alok had earned Rs. 80 for 16 correct answers. Mihir had earned Rs. 50 doesn’t matter how many questions he had attempted correctly. He was going to get the fix amount anyway. I got Rs. 175 for 31 minus 6 questions (I didn’t get this calculation). Alok and Mihir called me stupid for quitting the experiment and I said okay. The instructor later asked Teja why I had left the experiment so early. Others with my set had completed the experiment earning more than 200 bucks. Guilt and greed and what not. I don’t know what I did was right or not. Can curiosity be called as greed of knowledge? If yes, then how can greed be bad? Was I really being greedy? What was that guilt?
I don’t know. I only know that I had to give Alok and Mihir a treat after which I was left with only 40 bucks. I also know that my experimental data would certainly be different from others and that would make its analysis tough. I don’t know if greed can be bad but I know what I felt as greed back then was certainly bad for those who gonna analyze the data.