Friday, April 29, 2005

Is Novelty-Seeking a Bad Thing?

"The thing that doesn't fit is the thing that's most interesting" - Richard Feynman

When we hear parents or teachers lament about 'novelty-seeking' it seems like definitely unwanted trait. What are the bad things we think about novelty-seeking? High risk behaviors? Undesireable Experimentation? The dark side of ADHD?

But this is not a balance view of novelty. Novelty-seeking is wired into certain ways that we learn. And for some people, it may be their preferred way of learning. In the linked papers below, the anatomy of 'novelty seeking' does not suggest that novelty seeking results from the loss of restraint or deficiency in some brain function. Rather, there are special areas of brain that preferentially respond to novelty, and these areas interestingly are centers for personal or autobiographical memory and multisensory (sight, hearing, touch, etc.) experience.

So a novel experience that can help us in problem solving, is one that is very different from our experience. It something that can help use reexamine our assumptions, reframe our questions, or completely change our point-of-view. In this way, the novelty learning preference is more alligned to inductive learning (generating the principle from the novel example) and hands-on learning.

Needless to say, this is not the dominant style of teaching in the K-12 classroom. For children who seem to strongly prefer novelty-learning, though, it might well be worthwhile considering whether a different educational format is really what is needed to teach them in the way they want to learn.

Multisensory Novelty Regions
Novelty Seeking and Medial Temporal Lobe
IngentaConnect Novelty Seeking and Reward: Impli...the Study of High-Risk Behaviors


  1. I really wish I had read this yesterday - I've been doing some posts on Vertical & Horizontal thinking and I concluded by speculating about the role of Novelty in stimulating insight:

    I'd be interested in your comments. I'll have to link to your post in an update

  2. Wow, interesting post, mark! We'll link to your post and think more about it too over this weekend. Gets you thinking!

  3. Thank you very much. I've been pondering on how to make thinking more creatively productive for a while by understanding the process.

    I really don't think insight is randomly generated simply because great insights are rare - or that multiple great insights by one person ( Einstein, Aristotle, Newton, Da Vinci)are almost unheard of - I think it means that the conditions of our lives are rarely so ordered that the factors that produce insught can align.

    The frequency with which highly creative ppl indicate they drop a problem that has bedeviled them to sleep or fool around with something else for a time to have the answer suddenly hit them indicates to me that multiple types of thinking are involved.

    Reading your blog has really
    helped by introducing me to a steady diet of physiological evidence which has impacted how I considerd all the epistemological speculation/theory that people have thrown up over the years about learning and creativity.

  4. Anonymous5:27 AM

    Novelty seeking can sometimes be a positive trait, but that is not always the case.

    Novelty seeking makes me want to read history and politics while at work and unable to concentrate on the task at hand.

    Novelty seeking makes me want to be an expert on everything, always reading on my spare times, on cars, history, politics, drama, and a host of other things, never being able to pay attention to doing the shopping for houshold items, or helping around teh hosue.

    Novelty seeking makes me interested in every beautiful woman that I meet, thinking that she has a world of interst and fun behind her, makes me always stare at beautiful women and it upsets my wife.

    I want to be normal, just concentrate on my work and family, Novelty seeking is very distracting.

  5. Agree with you there, Anon.

    There is a continuum. In kids we look to see which children are not able to get any traction in their basic studies (unable to persist at reading, math etc.) vs. those seem to know a lot - but might still get into mischief in the classroom because of their novelty-seeking. These kids are often referred for behavioral rather than learning problems.