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Curiosity Depends on What You Already Know

http://nautil.us/issue/33/attraction/curiosity-depends-on-what-you-already-know

nautil.us

Curiosity Depends on What You Already Know
Humans have a drive to eat. We have a drive to drink. We have a drive to reproduce. Curiosity is no different, says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. Our insatiable drive to learn-to invent, explore, and study ceaselessly-"deserves to have the same status as those other drives."

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The paradox of curiosity

The paradox of curiosity

Curiosity doesn’t seem to be tied to any specific reward.

It makes sense for organisms to seek food, water, sex, shelter, rest, wealth, or any of the other myriad nourishing and pleasant things in life. But what is the good of deducing the nature of gravity, or of going to the moon?

A simple answer is that we never know if what we learn today might come in handy tomorrow.

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Curiosity and evolution

From an evolutionary perspective, there’s good reason to keep looking, to be curious. Information helps us make better choices and adapt to a changing environment.

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Curiosity as a probability algorithm

Scientists who study the mechanics of curiosity are finding that it is, at its core, a kind of probability algorithm—our brain’s continuous calculation of which path or action is likely to gain us the most knowledge in the least amount of time. Like the links on a Wikipedia page, curiosity builds upon itself, every question leading to the next. And as with a journey down the Wikipedia wormhole, where you start dictates where you might end up.

Curiosity is less about what you don’t know than about what you already do.

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Boredom alone can’t fully explain curiosity

The old view is that curiosity and boredom are opposite ends of the same continuum.

The new view: bored is not to curious as hungry is to full or thirsty is slaked. Rather, boredom is a signal that you’re not making good use of a part of the brain. And there are antidotes to boredom besides curiosity.

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The information gap

In a 1994 paper, Loewenstein theorized that curiosity’s direction is determined by the “information gap,” the sudden awareness of what you don’t know and the immediate desire to fill that gap.

But for the information gap to set its hook, though, it can’t be too big or too small - Curiosity peaks when subjects have a good guess about the answers, but aren’t quite sure.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Curiosity

Curiosity

It is the recognition, pursuit, and desire to explore novel, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous events.

The 5 dimensions that define curiosity

  • Joyous exploration: I view challenging situations as an opportunity to grow and learn.
  • Deprivation sensitivity: I like to try to solve problems that puzzle me.
  • Stress tolerance: The smallest doubt can stop me from seeking out new experiences.
  • Social curiosity: Social curiosity: I like to learn about the habits of others. I like finding out why people behave the way they do.
  • Thrill-seeking: The anxiety of doing something new makes me feel excited and alive. Risk-taking is exciting to me.

4 types of "curious" people

  1. The Fascinated – they score high on all dimensions of curiosity, particularly joyous exploration.
  2. Problem Solvers – score high on deprivation sensitivity, and are midrange for other dimensions.
  3. Empathizers – score high on social curiosity, midrange on other dimensions and much lower on stress tolerance and thrill-seeking.
  4. Avoiders – score low on all dimensions, particularly stress tolerance.

Albert Einstein

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. "

Albert Einstein

Curiosity declines with age

Children are extremely curious. They keep asking, "why?" and explore new things just because they want to know.

But research shows that during the schooling years, curiosity steadily declines, and as adults, we fall into fixed and convenient thought patterns.

The mechanics of curiosity

Research around curiosity found that children at age 5 scored 98% on a creativity test. When the same children took the test at age 10, only 30% scored well on the test. By age 15, only 12% of the same children did well. Less than 2% of adults are defined as creative based on their answer to this standardised test.

Science suggests this decrease in curiosity could be caused when we feel there's no gap between what we know and what we want to know, so we just stop being curious.

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Scott Young

"Learning is dialog, not consumption. The attitude that creates curiosity is to see learning as principally ..."

Scott Young

What makes learning interesting

Learning is a lot easier when it’s interesting. And what makes learning interesting is the degree of your curiosity about a certain subject.

Career opportunities and the fear of failure can motivate us. But if you really want to learn something, nothing beats curiosity.

Curiosity: evolution of the concept

Curiosity was first pictures as an unpleasant state that we were motivated to decrease.

In 1994, George Loewenstein offered a more modern take in his information-gap theory. His theory stated that curiosity was driven from the gap between what you know and what you’d like to know.