What is curiosity? Why are we curious? What makes us curious? Psychology has a few answers to these questions, for instance, there are studies that show that curiosity may arise when we observe discrepancies (Berlyne, 2006), or when we perceive gap in our knowledge (Kang et al., 2009). The conceptual clarity between curiosity and interest is blurred because curiosity involves seeking new information, whereas interest involves seeking exclusively pleasurable information (Donnellan et al., 2022).
So, we can see that curiosity has always been with us since childhood because curiosity helps us to better understand the world around us. And this is especially true when we are young and ready for life. You too have probably asked ‘why’ when you were a child. Much to the annoyance of your parents, however, this is something that researchers coin as ‘explanation-seeking curiosity’ (Kidd & Hayden, 2015), this behaviour motivates us to learn about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of life?
The younger we are the more questions we ask (some of us do this even in old age)! We want to know about the world, we want to explain the world, and when we have an explanation, then we can have exploration, which in turn improves metacognition. When false illusion evaporates, new reality sets in and then we are ready to go from theory to practice, to experience this new knowledge.
Benefits of being curious
If there wasn’t any benefit of being curious, we wouldn’t be curious, we would probably be happy with the world around us, even if we shouldn’t be. Motivated by curiosity, awareness of lexical ignorance may lead us to ask information-seeking questions. For example, do you know how are you when are in Eellogofusciouhipoppokunurious mood? That’s right! Weird word, huh? Even though, this is an (American) English word. Or do you know what did Dragoman do in the past?
The environmental influence and stimulation can greatly impact your choice of career (Gottfried et al., 2016), think of Bill Gates’s interest in business and philanthropy it was because his parents were successful people of affairs that he too became curious about business works. There is evidence that curiosity driven exploration can be as efficient as direct pedagogy for learning (Sim & Xu, 2017.
I consider myself a good example of this one, for instance nobody has ever pushed me to learn to play guitar, but I was very curious about it because I love the way it sounds. And then I just went for it! Moreover, because I was so curious how do chord progression, how to learn to play songs and the process of composing a song that have all helped me memorize better the things I have learned. No wonder why people remember the things they like more efficiently than the things they like the least.
Curiosity boosts memory (Ruggeri et al., 2019). And this is true at all ages, if we could somehow maintain our curiosity at older age, we could rejuvenate our memory as well. This curiosity might just explain why we are having older students in universities nowadays, a ‘hungry mind’ (von Stumm et al., 2011) is responsible for that, we just want to know more.
To be frank, that’s not always the case though, sometimes we go back to study and be a lifelong learner not out of curiosity, but out of anxiety. We don’t have a job, a career and we don’t have financial support. Learning from some kind of existential anxiety is never as good as learning from heartfelt curiosity. But that’s another topic to discuss. Curious people are very welcome in a changing organisation because they welcome new colleagues and new technologies. They are flexible enough to adapt to new plans in a complicated global market (Mussel, 2013) and tend to think out of the box as creative problem solvers and performers (Hardy et al., 2017).
The different faces of curiosity
We have qualitative differences when it comes to curiosity, and curiosity manifests itself in different ways. Consider the difference between the pleasure of travelling to new places to meet new cultures and new people and refusing to go to sleep before you receive the correct answer to an important question. The second one is a bit prone to anxiety. However, if the question is not a life-threatening existential one but something that makes you busy to search for answers out of heartfelt curiosity, all the while entering into a state of flow, then that still falls under the label of curiosity.
Novelty is looking into something that is new to you, something that you haven’t experienced. For instance, say you are a musician, a guitar player and there is this new guitar processor with all new and fancy effects in it. To you this is new, and you wouldn’t mind at all trying it out at your local music instrument shop. On the other hand, studies suggest that curious people tend to engage in proactive goals (Kashdan et al., 2020), and this behaviour may work as a resource replenishment function. Curious people may have a higher level of engagement and lower level of burnout (Thoman et al., 2011). Also, curiosity is our body’s natural methylphenidate (ADHD medication), which can raise our dopamine levels naturally and can transform the relatively boring part of work into something more stimulating (Wrzesniewski et al., 2013).
I think we all should strive to be curious; it can be said that it is our success to survive, so let’s not neglect the child in us!
Berlyne, D. E. (2006). Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. In Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. https://doi.org/10.1037/11164-000
Donnellan, E., Aslan, S., Fastrich, G. M., & Murayama, K. (2022). How Are Curiosity and Interest Different? Naïve Bayes Classification of People’s Beliefs. In Educational Psychology Review (Vol. 34, Issue 1). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-021-09622-9
Gottfried, A. E., Preston, K. S. J., Gottfried, A. W., Oliver, P. H., Delany, D. E., & Ibrahim, S. M. (2016). Pathways from parental stimulation of children’s curiosity to high school science course accomplishments and science career interest and skill. International Journal of Science Education, 38(12). https://doi.org/10.1080/09500693.2016.1220690
Hardy, J. H., Ness, A. M., & Mecca, J. (2017). Outside the box: Epistemic curiosity as a predictor of creative problem solving and creative performance. Personality and Individual Differences, 104. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.08.004
Kang, M. J., Hsu, M., Krajbich, I. M., Loewenstein, G., McClure, S. M., Wang, J. T. Y., & Camerer, C. F. (2009). The wick in the candle of learning: Epistemic curiosity activates reward circuitry and enhances memory. Psychological Science, 20(8). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02402.x
Kashdan, T. B., Goodman, F. R., Disabato, D. J., McKnight, P. E., Kelso, K., & Naughton, C. (2020). Curiosity has comprehensive benefits in the workplace: Developing and validating a multidimensional workplace curiosity scale in United States and German employees. Personality and Individual Differences, 155. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.109717
Kidd, C., & Hayden, B. Y. (2015). The Psychology and Neuroscience of Curiosity. In Neuron (Vol. 88, Issue 3). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2015.09.010
Mussel, P. (2013). Introducing the construct curiosity for predicting job performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34(4). https://doi.org/10.1002/job.1809
Ruggeri, A., Markant, D. B., Gureckis, T. M., Bretzke, M., & Xu, F. (2019). Memory enhancements from active control of learning emerge across development. Cognition, 186. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.01.010
Sim, Z. L., & Xu, F. (2017). Learning higher-order generalizations through free play: Evidence from 2- and 3-year-old children. Developmental Psychology, 53(4). https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000278
Thoman, D. B., Smith, J. L., & Silvia, P. J. (2011). The resource replenishment function of interest. In Social Psychological and Personality Science (Vol. 2, Issue 6). https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550611402521
von Stumm, S., Hell, B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity is the third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6). https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691611421204
Wrzesniewski, A., Lobuglio, N., Dutton, J. E., & Berg, J. M. (2013). Job crafting and cultivating positive meaning and identity in work. Advances in Positive Organizational Psychology, 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/S2046-410X(2013)0000001015
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