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Jason Hinterweger
Jason Hinterweger

Curiosity [BETTER]

Third, although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, in fact most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency. In a survey I conducted of more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, only about 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis, and about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.


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Working with executives in a leadership program at Harvard Kennedy School, my colleagues and I divided participants into groups of five or six, had some groups participate in a task that heightened their curiosity, and then asked all the groups to engage in a simulation that tracked performance. The groups whose curiosity had been heightened performed better than the control groups because they shared information more openly and listened more carefully.

Such fears and beliefs are misplaced, my recent research shows. When we demonstrate curiosity about others by asking questions, people like us more and view us as more competent, and the heightened trust makes our relationships more interesting and intimate. By asking questions, we promote more-meaningful connections and more-creative outcomes.

The term curiosity can also be used to denote the behavior or emotion of being curious, in regard to the desire to gain knowledge or information. Curiosity as a behavior and emotion is attributed over millennia as the driving force behind not only human development, but developments in science, language, and industry.[4]

Curiosity can be seen as an innate quality of many different species. It is common to human beings at all ages from infancy[5] through adulthood,[1] and is easy to observe in many other animal species; these include apes, cats, and rodents.[2] Early definitions cite curiosity as a motivated desire for information.[6] This motivational desire has been said to stem from a passion or an appetite for knowledge, information, and understanding.

These traditional ideas of curiosity have recently expanded to look at the difference between perceptual curiosity as the innate exploratory behavior that is present in all animals and epistemic curiosity as the desire for knowledge that is specifically attributed to humans.[7]

Curiosity-driven behavior is often defined as behavior through which knowledge is gained, and should therefore encompass all behaviors that provide access to or increase sensory information. Berlyne[8] divided curiosity-driven behavior into three categories; namely, orienting responses, locomotor exploration, and investigatory responses, or, investigatory manipulation. Previously, Berlyne[9] had already suggested that curiosity also includes verbal activities, such as asking questions, and symbolic activities, consisting of internally fueled mental processes such as thinking ("epistemic exploration").

Like other desires and need states that take on an appetitive quality (e.g. food), curiosity is linked with exploratory behavior and experiences of reward. Curiosity can be described as positive emotions and acquiring knowledge; when one's curiosity has been aroused it is considered inherently rewarding and pleasurable. Discovering new information may also be rewarding because it can help reduce undesirable states of uncertainty rather than stimulating interest. Theories have arisen in attempts to further understand this need to rectify states of uncertainty and the desire to participate in pleasurable experiences of exploratory behaviors.

Curiosity-drive theory relates to the undesirable experiences of "uncertainty". The reduction of these unpleasant feelings, in turn, is rewarding. This theory suggests that people desire coherence and understanding in their thought processes. When this coherence is disrupted by something that is unfamiliar, uncertain, or ambiguous, it is curiosity-drive that attempts to gather information and knowledge of the unfamiliar to restore coherent thought processes. Through this theory, the general concept dictates that curiosity is developed strictly out of the desire to make sense of unfamiliar aspects of one's environment through interaction of exploratory behaviors. Once understanding of the unfamiliar has been achieved and coherence has been restored, these behaviors and desires will subside.

Subsets of curiosity-drive theory differ on whether curiosity is a primary or secondary drive and if this curiosity-drive is originated due to one's need to make sense of and regulate their environment or if it is caused by an external stimulus.[10] Causes can range from basic needs that need to be satisfied (e.g. hunger, thirst) to needs in fear induced situations.[10] Each of these subset theories state that whether the need is primary or secondary curiosity is developed from experiences that create a sensation of uncertainty or perceived unpleasantness. Curiosity then acts as a means in which to dispel this uncertainty. By exhibiting curious and exploratory behavior, one is able to gain knowledge of the unfamiliar and thus reduce the state of uncertainty or unpleasantness. This theory, however, does not address the idea that curiosity can often be displayed even in the absence of new or unfamiliar situations.[11] This type of exploratory behavior is common in many species. Take the example of a human toddler who, if bored in his current situation devoid of arousing stimuli, will walk about until something interesting is found. The observation of curiosity even in the absence of novel stimuli pinpoints one of the major shortcomings in the curiosity-drive model.

Optimal-arousal theory developed out of the need to explain the desire for some to seek out opportunities to engage in exploratory behaviors without the presence of uncertain or ambiguous situations. Optimal-arousal theory attempts to explain this aspect of curiosity by suggesting that one can be motivated to maintain a pleasurable sense of arousal through these exploratory behaviors.

The concept of optimal-arousal of curiosity suggests that there is a tendency to maintain an optimal level of arousal.[8] When a stimulus is encountered that is associated with complexity, uncertainty, conflict, or novelty, this will increase arousal, and exploratory behavior is employed to learn about that stimulus and thereby reduce arousal again. In contrast, if the environment is boring and lacks excitement, arousal is reduced and exploratory behavior will be engaged in order to increase information input and stimulation, and thereby increasing arousal again. This theory addresses both curiosity elicited by uncertain or unfamiliar situations and curiosity elicited in the absence of such situations.

Cognitive-consistency theories assume that "when two or more simultaneously active cognitive structures are logically inconsistent, arousal is increased, which activates processes with the expected consequence of increasing consistency and decreasing arousal."[12] Similar to optimal-arousal theory, cognitive-consistency theory suggests that there is a tendency to maintain arousal at a preferred, or expected, level, but it also explicitly links the amount of arousal to the amount of experienced inconsistency between an expected situation and the actually perceived situation. When this inconsistency is small, exploratory behavior triggered by curiosity is employed to gather information with which expectancy can be updated through learning to match perception, thereby reducing inconsistency.[6][12][13] This approach puts curiosity in a broader perspective, also involving aggression and fear. That is, if the inconsistency is larger, fear or aggressive behavior may be employed to alter the perception in order to make it match expectancy, depending on the size of the inconsistency as well as the specific context. Aggressive behavior is assumed to alter perception by forcefully manipulating it into matching the expected situation, while uninhibited fear results in fleeing, thereby removing the inconsistent stimulus from the perceptual field and resolving the inconsistency.[12]

Taking into account the shortcomings of both curiosity-drive and optimal-arousal theories, attempts have been made to integrate neurobiological aspects of reward, wanting, and pleasure into a more comprehensive theory for curiosity. Research suggests that the act of wanting and desiring new information directly involves mesolimbic pathways of the brain that directly account for dopamine activation. The use of these pathways and dopamine activation may account for the assigning of value to new information and then interpreting as reward.[10][14][15] This aspect of neurobiology can accompany curiosity-drive theory in motivating exploratory behavior.

Although the phenomenon of curiosity is widely regarded, its root causes are relatively unknown beyond theory. However, recent studies have provided some insight into the neurological mechanisms that make up what is known as the reward pathway[16] which may impact characteristics associated with curiosity, such as learning, memory, and motivation. Due to the complex nature of curiosity, research that focuses on specific neural processes with these characteristics can help create a better understanding of the phenomenon of curiosity as a whole. The following are characteristics of curiosity and their links to neural aspects that can be thought of as essential in creating exploratory behaviors.

The drive to learn new information or perform some action is often initiated by the anticipation of reward. In this way, the concepts of motivation and reward are naturally tied to the notion of curiosity.[14]

Dopamine is linked to the process of curiosity, as it is responsible for assigning and retaining reward values of information gained. Research suggests higher amounts of dopamine is released when the reward is unknown and the stimulus is unfamiliar, compared to activation of dopamine when stimulus is familiar.[14]

The nucleus accumbens is a formation of neurons and is important in reward pathway activation. As previously mentioned, the reward pathway is an integral part in the induction of curiosity. The release of dopamine in investigating response to novel or exciting stimuli. The fast dopamine release observed during childhood and adolescence is important in development, as curiosity and exploratory behavior are the largest facilitators of learning during early years. 041b061a72


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