Global Technology - October 2018

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  • Psychologists have compiled a large body of research on the many benefits of curiosity.
  • It enhances intelligence: In one study, highly curious children aged three to eleven improved their intelligence test scores by twelve points more than their least-curious counterparts did.
  • It increases perseverance, or grit: Merely describing a day when you felt curious has been shown to boost mental and physical energy by 20 percent more than recounting a time of profound happiness. And,
  • Curiosity propels us toward deeper engagement, superior performance, and more-meaningful goals: Psychology students who felt more curious than others during their first class enjoyed lectures more, got higher final grades.

But, as explained in a September-October 2018 Harvard Business Review article by George Mason University professor Todd B. Kashdan and his colleagues, another stream of research on curiosity is equally important. Since the 1950s psychologists have offered competing theories about what makes one person more curious than another. Rather than regard curiosity as a single trait, researchers can now break it down into five distinct dimensions. Instead of asking, “How curious are you?” they can ask, “How are you curious?”

In the 1950s Daniel Berlyne was one of the first psychologists to offer a comprehensive model of curiosity. He argued that we all seek the sweet spot between two deeply uncomfortable states:

  • Under-stimulation which means coping with tasks, people, or situations that lack sufficient novelty, complexity, uncertainty, or conflict. And,
  • Over stimulation.

To that end we use either what Berlyne called “diversive curiosity,” as when a bored person searches for something—anything—to boost arousal or what he called “specific curiosity,” as when a hyper-stimulated person tries to understand what’s happening in order to reduce arousal to a more manageable level.

Building on Berlyne’s insights, in 1994 George Loewenstein, of Carnegie Mellon University, proposed the “information gap” theory. He posited that people become curious upon realizing that they lack desired knowledge; this creates an aversive feeling of uncertainty, which compels them to uncover the missing...

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