Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Curiosity

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What is it? What are its pros and cons?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Curiosity rover on mars

[Provide more detail]

  • What is curiosity?
  • How does it relate to motivation?
  • What are its pros and cons?
  • Curiosity through the lifespan
  • Curiosity in the media

Definitions[edit | edit source]

As a psychological concept, curiosity has not been given a definition that has been widely excepted. There are many ways one can consider this construct, however the most encompassing is that it is “an intrinsic human need to seek new information and new sensory experiences that motivates exploratory behaviour” [1]

When considered not in a psychological context, it is known as "the desire to learn or gain knowledge about a subject or object"[2]

Considered to be many things, primarily an intrinsic motivation and desire for information. Can also be viewed as a passion for learning. Whereas it has also been said it is "appetitive " in that it is sharp and easily satiated. [3]

Curiosity[edit | edit source]

The notion of curiosity has been around since the existence of humanity, but, has only in the last half century become a topic of research among psychologists. Dating back to the 1950’s,  Berlyne questioned why we haven’t looked more into this motivation that underlies our quest for knowledge. The majority of research since has used Berlyne’s findings as a base for their own exploration of the subject. Many different studies categorise curiosity in different ways, one of the most commonly referred to is a term coined by Berlyne; “epistemic curiosity” which is “desire for knowledge that motivates individuals to learn new ideas, eliminate information-gaps, and solve intellectual problems”. [4]

Regardless of beliefs about how this world came about, curiosity has existed since the beginning of time in both the biblical and scientific sense. Adam and Eve’s existence is well known for Eve’s curiosity getting the better of her. On the other end of the spectrum, cave people were inherently curious and constantly discovering things and making things as a product of their curiosity of the world, things such as fire, spears and tools.

Curiosity is a multidimensional motivator and can translate to any facet of life; social, physical, mental, spiritual or otherwise. Yet in the end, all curious thoughts and feelings are contributing towards a pursuit of knowledge that can be satisfied upon actions or inaction that come as a result of a curious thought. It is an essential aspect of development that allows an individual to learn and grow in their natural environment.

Pros and Cons of curiosity as motivation[edit | edit source]

Curiosity as a motivation for learning and acquiring knowledge can potentially be beneficial to the individual. However, there is always the risk of a curious thought becoming a detriment.

Pros[edit | edit source]

There are many personal benefits to being a curious person, both in a personal and professional sense.

Curiosity is important for mental health and maintaining an active and inquisitive mind;

  • Health - studies have shown that those who are inquisitive in life are less likely to develop ailments like hypertension or diabetes. While correlational, it is not a causal relationship, but it does suggest curiosity holds positive connections with health and well-being.[5]
  • Intelligence - there is an apparent correlation between those who were high novelty seeking (or curious) toddlers and the score they received on an IQ test. Those with higher levels of curiosity were found to have tested with higher IQ's. [5]
  • Social Relationships - highly curious people are more likely to develop and maintain a strong social relationship as they often show interest in the likes of another person, and are seen as genuine. [5]
  • Happiness - research has shown that we are more likely to find happiness in something that we have "stumbled upon" rather than what we have planned and thought would make us happy. The openness to new experiences that comes with curiosity increases the likelihood of an occurrence like this. A study also deduced that there are 24 basic strengths to finding happiness, and curiosity was named in the top five strengths.[5]
  • Meaning - Curiosity acts as a doorway to finding things we become passionate about, and being curious can further a person's journey to self actualisation or even merely finding a hobby or activity of interest. [5]

Studies have been conducted that deduce curiosity is an effective way to reduce stress in the workplace and other aspects of life[6];

  • By following up on a curious thought, you are avoiding stagnation of the mind and indulging a natural instinct that could ultimately clear your mind.
  • Studies have shown that practicing[spelling?] curiosity can make challenges seem more achievable, therefore boosting morale and allowing for higher levels of productivity.
  • It also increases self-directed regulation in that if a person is driven by curiosity they are less likely to revert to self-preservation or survival behaviours.
  • Practising curiosity in the workplace lowers defensiveness as the perceived risks are lower and the worker is less likely to use defensive and avoidant behaviours to solve an issue.
  • Curiosity encourages a non-defensive openness to experiences, which, in turn, activates mindfulness[6].

Curiosity can be viewed as either an intrinsic or extrinsic motivator. Depending on the topic or event the individual is curious about.

Cons[edit | edit source]

Curiosity can prove as dangerous, depending on the event the individual is curious about. As a species, humans have always had a fascination with nature and its events. For some, this fascination ends at emotions like fear and apprehension. For others, it’s thrilling or a way of acquiring further knowledge.

In the term "curiosity killed the cat" it suggests a negative connotation in regards to curiosity, and that there will be an unfavourable outcome if the individual acts on their curiosity. A person may learn of something that goes against their previous thoughts or opinions on a topic, proving a great deal of cognitive discomfort. Or in some scenarios they might follow a curious thought and end up endangering themselves, in the case of a person who wonders how deep water is and tests it out but cannot swim at that level.

In today's media there is a prevalence of something called "clickbait". Where an organisation, news site, social media page or person might post something online that encourages the reader to follow the link and find out more information. More often than not the link does not live up to its promise and the reader is left feeling 'duped'. Curiosity is too easy a concept for marketing strategists to play on and utilise for their own benefit, rather than to advertise the product effectively.[7]

Curiosity through the lifespan[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Curiosity-driven actions in infancy and early childhood[edit | edit source]

Infancy and early childhood;

Curiosity can be seen as a determinant for exploratory behaviour in children. A child with high levels of curiosity is far more likely to venture out of their known world and acquire new knowledge and skills. [8] From birth a child is constantly curious about these brand-new colours, objects, sounds, smells and people in their immediate surroundings. The constant need to touch, feel, taste, ogle at are all apart of our natural instincts and curiosities that afford us the opportunity to learn something new, decipher the world around us. It is during infancy and early childhood that we learn what things to touch, and what things hurt to touch, or what tastes good to us or what makes us gag. Researchers and educators have suggested that this time in a child’s life is important to try not stifle the child’s curiosity, otherwise they will lose that tendency to act on their curiosities further down the track. Dr. Bruce Perry suggested that there are three main ways an adult can constrain a child’s curiosity[9];

  • Fear - In a world that is chaotic or unfamiliar, a child will seek out comfort and the already known. They will not act on any curiosities. [9]
  • Disapproval - The constant stream of “don’t” coming from an adult, “don’t climb that”, “don’t touch that”, “don’t eat that”. While some disapprovals are for the safety of the child, others are to prevent mess or a state of uncleanliness that is undesirable to the parent or adult. The apparent disgust at some dirt or mud on a child’s shoe could potentially diminish their desire to explore or play outside[9].
  • Absence - Some children need the comfort of having a loved one or an adult nearby, so they feel safe to explore or try something new. The absence of this type of figure can discourage a child from acting on their curiosity[9].

During this sensory period, a child’s natural instincts encourage them to explore their curiosities which, in turn, supplies them with knowledge about the world and how it works. They learn not to touch things that will cause them immediate discomfort or pain. They learn what foods they do and don’t like. Curiosity acts as a tool for survival as well as learning.

Curiosity in old age[edit | edit source]

As curiosity is a concept that suggests lack of knowledge or being new to something, it makes sense that a person of an older age would be less curious than their counterpart 30 or so years younger. The elderly have experienced many years of life and acquired mountains of knowledge that people of a younger age are yet to learn. Unsurprisingly, research has shown that of the big five personality traits, openness to experience is one of the only ones with a decreased scored compared to others like agreeableness and conscientiousness.[10] Sensation seeking has also been proven to have decreased in age, with the elderly showing no desire to seek novel or intense sensations. The transition from early adulthood to late adulthood shows a decline in a number of dimensions of curiosity;

  • Interpersonal curiosity - The desire to know what is happening in the lives of others, or what their feelings are[10]
  • Epistemic curiosity - The pursuit of new knowledge[10]
  • Intrapersonal curiosity - The desire to acquire new knowledge about oneself[10]

Due to their perception of time as being “limited”, people older in age are more likely to focus on emotion-regulated goals and optimising their psychological wellbeing. Whereas those younger tend to seek knowledge and new experiences where they are faced with an uncertain future. Though they lack the motivation that comes with curiosity, studies have shown that it is important for older aged people to remain curious as it assists with cognitive functioning and keeps the brain active. [10]

Curiosity in Research[edit | edit source]

Berlyne, 1954[edit | edit source]

Berlyne’s research into curiosity was pivotal in opening up the conversation and allowing for other academics to further their own research into curiosity as a tool for motivation to learn. According to Berlyne, there are two types of curiosity, divided into perceptual and specific.

  • Perceptual - Interest in, and giving attention to, novel perceptual stimulation, and motivates visual and sensory-inspection. [4]
  • Specific - The need to investigate a specific object or problem in order to understand it, pursuing knowledge and new information.[4]

The most commonly focused on being “specific”, the pursuit of knowledge[grammar?]. Humans are inherently curious creatures, constantly in the pursuit of knowledge, whether it be for personal or academic gain. Berlyne began his research by posing two questions:

  1. “Why do human beings devote so much time and effort into the acquisition of knowledge?”
  2. “Why, out of the infinite range of knowable items in the universe, certain pieces of knowledge are more ardently sought and readily retained than others.” [4] It was primarily the second question that Berlyne was researching.

The Information Gap Perspective (Loewenstein, 1994)[edit | edit source]

Suggested by Loewenstein that there is an optimal level of knowledge required for the curiosity to pique and motivate the individual to seek out the unknown information[grammar?]. It was suggested that if the gap between the individual’s knowledge and their desired knowledge is too large, they will be unmotivated to learn as it does not seem achievable. Whereas if it is too small, they will not attempt to gain any new knowledge as it does not seem worth the effort[grammar?]. Therefore, previous knowledge must exist, but in order for their curiosity to be piqued it can’t be too much or too little.[3]

Loewenstein also suggested the information gap can be defined by two quantities; what one wants to know, and what one does not want to know. What people want to know is considered to be objective, in that some people might incorrectly estimate their own level of knowledge. And what people don’t want to know is subjective. Loewenstein stated that when someone wants to know something it is considered one’s "informational reference point".[3] When considered in this way, curiosity arises when one’s informational reference point becomes higher than their current bank of knowledge on that topic. The author suggests there is a level of spontaneity to the generic curious thought, that someone only becomes curious once they are aware of the information gap, which is also known as involuntary curiosity, the most common kind. ``[3]

Where some people put themselves in a situation where they know they are going to become curious about something, or voluntary exposure to curiosity[grammar?]. The motivation for this is said to be that closing that information gap and satisfying the need for new information is somewhat pleasurable. Those individuals participating in voluntary exposure to curiosity are compared to when a person doesn’t eat all day with the knowledge of a feast at dinner. In those cases, the pay off for intentional curiosity must be high enough to make it worth it, as it wouldn’t be if there were only a small chance of a feast.[3]

Elements of Nature Curiosity Scale[edit | edit source]

The Elements of Nature Curiosity Scale (ENCS) was developed to diagnose peoples' curiosities about hazardous events caused by forces of nature; thunderstorms, avalanches, floods, volcanic eruptions etc. Those with high levels of curiosity indicative of sensation-seeking were more likely to put their health and safety at risk to experience the confrontation with natural phenomena that affords them a positive experience.  As with many other studies, this particular one utilised the already existing types of curiosity determined by Berlyne; epistemic and perceptual, with the addition of “d-type curiosity”, which involves "reducing undesirable states of informational deprivation, which cause anxiety and frustration."[1]

The scale consisted of questions related to water, air, fire and earth. The researcher conceptualised the three dimensions of curiosity to be relevant to the study;

  • Epistemic curiosity - discussions, reading books, watching scientific programs about elements of nature
  • Perceptual curiosity - personally watching or hearing elements of nature
  • D-Type curiosity - seeking information about elements of nature in order to prepare in advance for any future danger[1].

The Five Dimensional Model[edit | edit source]

A theory has been proposed that rather than asking the question “How curious are you?” it is best to ask “how are you curious”. This model suggests curiosity as the basis for avoidant behaviour against possible discomfort, but also the pursuit of novelty and new experiences. The five-dimensional model gives way to five different types of curiosity.

  • Deprivation sensitivity - Recognising a gap in knowledge and can only be relieved by filling that gap. The type of curiosity that keeps one up at night, unable to complete other tasks until it is known. [11]
  • Joyous exploration - Possessing a fascination about the wonders of the world. A person will go out of their way to learn new things, inspired to grow and learn.[11]
  • Social curiosity - Observation of others around you, wondering what they are thinking. Gossip, eavesdropping, snooping all methods of quenching this curiosity.[11]
  • Stress tolerance - The ability J accept anxieties surrounding new or different experiences. People often don’t engage because they are unable to answer their curiosities beforehand. [11]
  • Thrill seeking - Being willing to take risks socially, physically, financially etc. These people thrive off the unknown and seek out.[11]

Four of these dimensions are believed to improve work outcomes; deprivation sensitivity, joyous exploration, social curiosity and stress tolerance.

Five Dimension Scale; How are you curious?[12][edit | edit source]

Use this scale to indicate the degree to which the following statements describe you: 1. Does not describe me at all. 2. Barely describes me. 3. Somewhat describes me.  4. Neutral. 5. Generally describes me. 6. Mostly describes me. 7. Completely describes me

Deprivation Sensitivity
Thinking about solutions to difficult conceptual problems can keep me awake at night
I can spend hours on a single problem because I just can’t rest without knowing the answer
I feel frustrated if I can’t figure out the solution to a problem, so I work even harder to solve it
I work relentlessly at problems that I feel must be solved
It frustrates me to not have all the information I need.
Joyous Exploration
I view challenging situations as an opportunity to grow and learn
I am always looking for experiences that challenge how I think about myself and the world
I seek out situations where it is likely that I will have to think in depth about something
I enjoy learning about subjects that are unfamiliar to me
I find it fascinating to learn new information
Social Curiosity
I like to learn about the habits of others
I like finding out why people behave the way they do
When other people are having a conversation, I like to find out what it’s about
When around other people, I like listening to their conversations
When people quarrel, I like to know what’s going on
Stress Tolerance
The smallest doubt can stop me from seeking out new experiences
I cannot handle the stress that comes from entering uncertain situations
I find it hard to explore new places when I lack confidence in my abilities
I cannot function well if I am unsure whether a new experience is safe
It is difficult to concentrate when there is a possibility that I will be taken by surprise
Thrill Seeking
The anxiety of doing something new makes me feel excited and alive
Risk taking is exciting to me
When I have free time, I want to do things that are a little scary
Creating an adventure as I go is much more appealing than a planned adventure
I prefer friends who are excitingly unpredictable

Scoring instructions: Compute the average score for each dimension (reverse score the items under stress tolerance)[12]

What your score means:

Deprivation Sensitivity; LOW <3.7 MEDIUM +/−4.9 HIGH >6.0

Joyous Exploration; LOW <4.1 MEDIUM +/−5.2 HIGH >6.3

Social Curiosity; LOW <3.0 MEDIUM +/−4.4 HIGH >5.8

Stress Tolerance; LOW <3.1 MEDIUM +/−4.4 HIGH >5.8

Thrill Seeking; LOW <2.6 MEDIUM +/−3.9 HIGH >5.2[11]

Curiosity Rover[edit | edit source]

Aptly named, the rover scientists sent to Mars is a product of human’s thirst for knowledge and ability to act on their curious thoughts. To humans, space exploration is a necessity, not for survival but for the never-ending pursuit of knowledge. Over the years, NASA and other space agencies have developed and patented space exploration programs that are designed to enrich and increase our current knowledge of space and its qualities. Curiosity is an example of that.

Curiosity was sent into space in November of 2011 and landed on the surface of Mars in August 2012. The rover does exactly that, roves around Mars’ surface, sending pictures back to Earth. For no other reason than specific curiosity does programs like this exist. Where the benefits are not survival based, but knowledge based. For those curious about Curiosity’s venture, NASA boasts an extensive webpage full of images from the Red Planet and the rover’s findings so far. [13]

Curiosity Killed the Cat[edit | edit source]

The term “Curiosity killed the cat” was coined in the late 19th century.[14] However, a saying of similar concept has been around since the late 16th century, with variations of the saying being included in Shakespeare’s “Much ado about nothing” and Ben Johnson’s “Every man in his humor”, with Shakespeare “What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care” and Johnson “Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care'll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman” [note: “care” was used in a different context than today, it was intended as a word for worry/sorrow rather than provide for].[14] Though not specifically related to feline curiosity, a similar phrase was found from back in AD 397, Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions “[God] fashioned hell for the inquisitive”. There is no one documented moment that is the official coining of the term “curiosity killed the cat”. [14]

Curiosity in the Media[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Television[edit | edit source]

Television, internet, social media and print are just a few of the mediums that play on an individual’s natural curious instincts to capitalise on their message. Television shows use the idea of a "cliffhanger" to keep people hooked and asking, “What’s next?”. For reality shows it begs “Who will he pick?” for talent or even romance shows. For drama genre shows, “Do they live or die?” or “Will they make this course altering decision?”. For romance movies and shows the viewers are left wondering “Will they get together? Will they break up?”. And for the thrillers and horror movies, “Who is the killer?”. These questions leave people wanting more and can keep them on the hook from anywhere to the next episode immediately, or the following week, or even up to a year for the next season. It is this curiosity about what happens next that keeps people interested and coming back for more.

Advertising[edit | edit source]

Advertising works in the same way, in that viewers or listeners are left with a desire to find out the answer to a question they can only fulfil by actively engaging in the advertised activity or purchasing the product. The aim of an advertisement is to engage the consumer, have them wondering about the product. Some techniques used to pique curiosity include asking the audience close-ended questions like “Do you want to save money?” or “Are you interested in winning an overseas trip?”, where when answered “yes” they are curious as to exactly how that’s going to happen. Advertisers often use this opportunity to then recommend the consumer to either visit their store or website or attend some sort of event to find out the answer. [15]

News[edit | edit source]

An individual may have the desire to know about events outside their personal world, which is a motivating factor for those that tune into the news on a semi-regular to regular basis. News television shows often play on people’s curiosity by showing previews of what stories are running and encourages the audience to “stay tuned” in order to get the full story. People are inherently fascinated by the eventful or tragic, even if it does not directly affect them.

Social Media[edit | edit source]

The most commonly used media platform for today’s consumer is social media. Facebook is a place where people can get all the media in one place. It is a convenient way to keep up to date on the local or international news, keep updated on television shows (reality or otherwise), be kept in the loop on the lives of family and friends and also to browse potential products they might find interesting. The improvement and implementation of the Facebook algorithm has played on people’s curious nature in that it brings forward advertisements for viewing that are related to a previously viewed product.[16] For example, if you click on an ad for a fruit drink one day, then Facebook will think you’re interested and show you a number of other brands of the same product. The curiosity that motivated you to click on that product is what Facebook thinks you want to know more about.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Próchniak, Piotr (2017-09-13). "Development and testing of the elements of the Nature Curiosity Scale". Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal 45 (8): 1245–1254. doi:10.2224/sbp.6130. ISSN 0301-2212. 
  2. "the definition of curiosity". Retrieved 2018-09-01.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Loewenstein, George (1994). "The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation.". Psychological Bulletin 116 (1): 75–98. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.116.1.75. ISSN 0033-2909. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 BERLYNE, D. E. (1954-08). "A THEORY OF HUMAN CURIOSITY". British Journal of Psychology. General Section 45 (3): 180–191. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1954.tb01243.x. ISSN 0373-2460. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "The Power of Curiosity". Experience Life. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Horstmeyer, A. (2018). Ease Stress By Getting Curious: Four effects of curiosity. Personal Excellence Essentials, 23(8), 12–15. Retrieved from
  7. "Curiosity: The Good, the Bad, and the Double-Edged Sword". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  8. Arend, Richard; Gove, Frederick L.; Sroufe, L. Alan (1979). "Continuity of Individual Adaptation from Infancy to Kindergarten: A Predictive Study of Ego-Resiliency and Curiosity in Preschoolers". Child Development 50 (4): 950–959. doi:10.2307/1129319. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 "Curiosity: The Fuel of Development". Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Sakaki, Michiko; Yagi, Ayano; Murayama, Kou (2018-05). "Curiosity in old age: A possible key to achieving adaptive aging". Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 88: 106–116. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.03.007. ISSN 0149-7634. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Kashdan, Todd B.; Stiksma, Melissa C.; Disabato, David J.; McKnight, Patrick E.; Bekier, John; Kaji, Joel; Lazarus, Rachel (2018-04). "The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people". Journal of Research in Personality 73: 130–149. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2017.11.011. ISSN 0092-6566. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 KASHDAN, T. B., DISABATO, D. J., GOODMAN, F. R., & NAUGHTON, C. (2018). The Five Dimensions of Curiosity. (cover story). Harvard Business Review, 96(5), 58–60. Retrieved from
  13. NASA, JPL. "Mars Science Laboratory". Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Martin, Gary. "'Curiosity killed the cat' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  15. "Curiosity Marketing: A Better Way to Win Loyal Customers". Social Media Examiner. 2018-06-22. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  16. Bucher, Taina (2012-04-08). "Want to be on the top? Algorithmic power and the threat of invisibility on Facebook". New Media & Society 14 (7): 1164–1180. doi:10.1177/1461444812440159. ISSN 1461-4448. 

External links[edit | edit source]