Ever wonder whether curiosity is important in life?
Inventors, thought leaders, psychologists, and experts at the top of their game all say curiosity is one of the most valuable traits we can strengthen.
This article explores how curiosity benefits learning, cognitive development, and overall lifelong intellectual wellness. We’ll also share some actionable tips to cultivate more curiosity in your life.
But to understand why curiosity matters so much, we have to start with a simple foundation:
WHAT IS CURIOSITY?
Curiosity is the desire to seek new information, explore novel possibilities, and learn how things work.
Researchers say curiosity is an impulse observed across the animal kingdom, from super-smart dolphins and primates to the smallest worms and crabs.
Like animals, our earliest ancestors used their five senses to gather information. Seeking this intel helped them learn how to navigate and understand their ever-changing environment and make better choices.
Did You Know There Are Multiple Curiosity Types?
Scientists discovered that curiosity is a spectrum. Some people are more curious than others and experience more frequent and intense impulses for novel information.¹
Though psychologists believe we all have curious natures, our personalities drive us to be more curious about different aspects of our world.² These distinctions are known as “curiosity types.”
Epistemic curiosity is characterized by the desire to bridge gaps in our knowledge.³ New facts, concepts, theories, and ideas spark curiosity for people in this category.
Social or empathetic curiosity is a fascination with how other people think, behave, and feel.⁴ Being curious about someone motivates people with this curiosity type to improve their interpersonal relationships.
Perceptual curiosity refers to people who are constantly scanning their environment for novel sensory information.⁵ Almost everything fascinates them, opening doors to unlimited ideas and possibilities.
Experts agree that all types of curiosity help people become well-rounded, lifelong learners. However, research has only shown epistemic and perceptual curiosity to correlate with specific areas in our brains.⁶
So what part of the brain is responsible for curiosity?
The Link Between Curiosity and Brain Development
How does curiosity affect the brain?
According to scientific studies, the thirst for new information sparked by curiosity triggers the same response in your brain as physical thirst and hunger.⁷
When your curiosity is piqued, your brain enters what’s known as the “curiosity state.” You recognize that you lack certain information, which makes your brain slightly uncomfortable. Then the parts of your brain sensitive to unpleasant conditions light up.
Interestingly, these brain systems are also linked to your brain’s reward chemicals. Satisfying your cravings for new information feels good because your brain releases a flood of dopamine in response.⁸
This feel-good neurotransmitter and hormone makes you feel happier and rewarded for learning something novel, which boosts the likelihood that you’ll satisfy your curiosity again in the future.⁹
Even better news? Dopamine also plays a part in your learning and memory.
Why is Curiosity a Key to Learning?
Ever notice that new facts rarely stick in your head when you’re not interested in a particular subject? It’s not you; it’s science.
Being in a state of high curiosity actually primes our brains to learn faster. It even allows us to recall what we pick up more easily and efficiently.¹⁰
That’s because curiosity activates key areas of the brain, such as the substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, the hippocampus (a vital hub for memory), and the fornix, a crucial brain structure connecting the hippocampus with the areas responsible for exploration.¹¹
Connectivity between these regions helps us pay more attention and enhances our connection and memory-making abilities. It even boosts our ability and motivation to process less-than-interesting intel.¹², ¹³
The importance of curiosity in learning cannot be stressed enough. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What Are the Benefits of Curiosity for Your Intellectual Wellness?
Why is curiosity so powerful for our brains?
Because science shows it can help us:
Develop an Active vs. Passive Mind
The minds of curious people are always active. They regularly ask questions, ponder ideas, and search for answers. This mental flexibility allows them to absorb and remember more than less curious people.
So if our minds are like a muscle, practicing curiosity strengthens and keeps our brains fit.
Plus, when our curiosity is triggered, we’re less likely to succumb to stereotyping and confirmation bias. Rather than looking for information that supports our assumptions, our brains seek evidence to challenge them. Then we learn and grow in the process.
Innovation is often the result of curiosity and creativity. And in a study mentioned in the Harvard Business Review, a one-unit increase in participants’ curiosity sparked a 34% increase in their creativity.¹⁴
Being curious opens our eyes to a world of creative possibilities we may never have considered. We more easily embrace new alternatives and out-of-the-box solutions to problems.
Without curiosity, we may miss these novel ideas and approaches because our minds are unprepared to recognize them.
So now that you have the answers to what curiosity is and its importance, let’s talk about:
How to Cultivate More Curiosity in Your Life
Research shows fostering curiosity in children leads to better life outcomes. Similarly, constantly stimulating curiosity in adults creates more prosperous and fulfilling lives.¹⁵
So to encourage more curiosity in your life:
Always Keep an Open, Engaged Mind
Keeping an open mind that welcomes new ideas, learning opportunities, and information-seeking is the best way to foster curiosity. Be prepared to learn new intel, unlearn outdated information, and relearn things as you gather more evidence.
Never label anything as boring. Curious people never close the door to possibilities; they find something interesting in everything. Even if they lack time to explore what’s behind that door, they acknowledge the world of potential that exists and leave it open to visit later.
Curious people ask questions relentlessly. They rarely take information at face value and strive to dig deeper, relishing in the learning process.
Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist and professor at the Harvard Business School, says children constantly ask, “Why?” They’re not afraid to admit they don’t know everything and have an insatiable curiosity to learn about the world around them.¹⁶
But as we grow up, our self-consciousness creeps in, and we fear asking questions. We worry we’ll seem incompetent or don’t want to bother others, so we suppress our natural curiosity.
However, Gino’s research proves the reverse is actually true.¹⁶ People will view us as more intelligent when we acknowledge that we don’t know everything, ask the right questions, and genuinely listen to or brainstorm creative ideas.
So think about ways to question what’s around you by asking open-ended questions like:
- Why do I do X like this?
- What if … ?
- How might we … ?
- Why do I/you believe … ?
- Why is this important?
- Tell me about X.
Consider this activity like playing a game of mental chess against yourself. Come up with arguments and ideas that challenge your beliefs and processes, and you’ll naturally make room for curiosity.
Diversify Your Interests
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut by listening to the same type of podcasts, reading the same author, playing the same genre of music, cooking the same foods, etc. So take this as a cue to spice things up and diversify!
Ask friends and family members for their recommendations and venture into new territories to spark your curiosity. You may fall down a rabbit hole and land on a few exciting ideas and discoveries.
Take the Road Not Traveled
Do you always take the same route to work or school or follow the same path on your morning walks? It’s time to chart a different course.
Your world is full of possibilities that may pique your curiosity. But you won’t find those novel sparks going down the same well-worn roads.
Branch out to get your creative and curious juices flowing, stimulate your senses, and explore new and interesting places hiding in plain sight.
So Why Is Curiosity Important for Success?
We’ve outlined why curiosity is important for learning, creativity, and intellectual wellness. But the benefits of curiosity can also help you become a better leader, a more empathetic friend, and a more well-rounded version of your best self.
Combine all those perks, and you’ll succeed in your career, interpersonal relationships, and personal development.
So what have you been itching to explore?
Take today’s article as a gentle nudge from the universe to ask a question and enjoy discovering the answer.
Life isn’t always as easy as we’d like it to be. And when your life starts to get a bit complicated, a personal life coach from Wellavi can be there to help you!