Do People Ask Good Questions?

Anselm Rothe, Brenden M. Lake, Todd M. Gureckis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People ask questions in order to efficiently learn about the world. But do people ask good questions? In this work, we designed an intuitive, game-based task that allowed people to ask natural language questions to resolve their uncertainty. Question quality was measured through Bayesian ideal observer models that considered large spaces of possible game states. During free-form question generation, participants asked a creative variety of useful and goal-directed questions, yet they rarely asked the best questions as identified by the Bayesian ideal observers (Experiment 1). In subsequent experiments, participants strongly preferred the best questions when evaluating questions that they did not generate themselves (Experiments 2 and 3). On one hand, our results show that people can accurately evaluate question quality, even when the set of questions is diverse and an ideal observer analysis has large computational requirements. On the other hand, people have a limited ability to synthesize maximally informative questions from scratch, suggesting a bottleneck in the question asking process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-89
Number of pages21
JournalComputational Brain and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Active learning
  • Bayesian modeling
  • Information search
  • Question asking
  • Question generation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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