Monday, December 20, 2010

Curiosity and the Creative Drive

"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do." - Walt Disney

From Psychology Today, "Decades before Evan Schaeffer started practicing law, he developed an interest so all-consuming it verged on obsession: snakes. By the time he entered the fourth grade, he had so many reptile books that they took up an entire shelf, and he counted the gloves, golf putter and pillowcase he used for snake-hunting among his most prized possessions.

The snake fascination gradually faded, but Schaeffer's determination to learn as much as he could about everything that interested him remained. "I never have to try to have hobbies—they just seem to find me," he says."

Sound like anyone that you know? Put Cal Tech students in a scanner reading trivia questions and you might learn a thing or two about curiosity. Curiosity is its own reward (caudate) and it does seem to boost memory and learning (parahippocampus). The inferior frontal gyrus' role may involve a little bit of both (reward and memory and learning) as well as something else like risk.

Jonah Lehrer adds this additional interesting reflection: "the scientists found is that curiosity obeys an inverted U-shaped curve, so that we’re most curious when we know a little about a subject (our curiosity has been piqued) but not too much (we’re still uncertain about the answer). This supports the information gap theory of curiosity, which was first developed by George Loewenstein of Carnegie-Mellon in the early 90s. According to Loewenstein, curiosity is rather simple: It comes when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”. This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because we that’s how we scratch the itch."

Maybe this curiosity drive should be what we trying harder to harness? If the Harvard / MIT -Light Bulb research applies, it may not be that hard to find out where knowledge stops. At least when it comes to science, most people's knowledge seems to be skin-deep.

Curiosity and the Brain - fMRI


  1. One of the items on a list of of traits of gifted and talented people from the Gifted Development Center) is “Do you have persistent curiosity?” … Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., author of the book Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, writes, "Curiosity appears to be a fundamental motive in facilitating industry and creativity."
    From my post Curiosity may help you find your true potential

  2. Anonymous12:11 PM

    This is what we need to be inspiring in children. Let them see that curiosity can be its own reward and encourage them to constantly be challenging their knowledge and understanding of the world around them. This is truly why we are having an education system crisis because learning is not ever presented as something rewarding in itself.
    I absolutely love reading about this research as it explains why I have so many hobbies and always seem to find something new to learn. I'll just chalk it up to having been a curious child that grew up into a curious adult.

  3. I have been thinking about this a lot, because my son with pdd-nos seems to be surprisingly uncurious about certain kinds of things ... I can't decide if he's got less curiosity in general, or if I'm just not piquing it. Could curiosity be like other kinds of neural things that get stronger with exercise? If I can figure out how to make him curious about something and then make sure it's rewarding, would this raise his whole "Curiosity Quotient"? or is curiosity too context-dependent to work this way, I wonder? Thanks for another excellent post. Happy New Year!

  4. Can curiosity be nurtured? Gosh, we think so. There are temperamental differences of course, but many kids (and adults) grow up in environments were things are explained and reasonable and this can mislead us into thinking we understand much more deeply than we do.

    It's so easy to succumb to this. Feynman's dad definitely deliberately instilled the idea of "question knowledge" in his son's learning at a very age. For more:

    Happy New Year!