The old saying the curiosity killed the cat is wrong. It should be curiosity skilled the cat. In this research briefing that was sent to members in 2021 I look at a study that examined the 5 dimensions of curiosity and curious people. Do you recognise yourself?
Curiosity refers to the recognition, pursuit and exploration of novel, uncertain, complex and ambiguous events where there is a feeling of interest and the potential for learning.
The curious appear to have an innate drive to explore, understand and engage with new situations and information.
- Findings of previous studies on curious people
- Basic forms of curiosity
- A New Study
- The 4 curiosity profiles
Findings of previous studies on curious people
A range of previous studies have found that curious people are significantly more likely to:
- Ask more impromptu and deeper questions
- Read more widely and more deeply
- Be more interested and investigate how other people think, behave and feel
- Engage in challenging tasks for the challenge and experience
- Be generally more proactive
- Be driven to increase their knowledge and skills, as well as get involved in intellectual and creative pursuits
Curiosity refers to the recognition, pursuit and exploration of novel, uncertain, complex and ambiguous events where there is a feeling of interest and the potential for learning. Also there is a desire to seek out novel experiences to see what will happen, to find out how one will react and to discover the reactions of others.
Basic forms of curiosity
The research has separated two basic forms of curiosity:
- The feeling of interest or wanting to know or do something for its own sake or for the experience.
- That which stems from a sense of frustration, or not liking not knowing something or to resolve some uncertainty or ambiguity or to remove some form of tension.
This distinction shows the difference between exploration as a pleasurable act vs exploration as an act to resolve some form of discomfort, annoyance or unease.
Hitherto, much of the research looking at curiosity has been underpinned by the assumption that curiosity is wholly a pleasurable, positive act.
A New Study
A team of researchers from George Mason University, Time Inc and The Marketing and Research Resources Lab, all in the US, conducted a series of studies to establish what factors are involved in curiosity and to produce a measure or scale of curiosity.
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The study found that:
Factors or Dimensions of curiosity
There are 5 distinct factors or dimensions of curiosity:
- Joyous exploration
- Deprivation sensitivity
- Stress tolerance
- Social curiosity
- Thrill seeking
Joyous exploration refers to exploring things for the joy or positive experience and, out of all five of the dimensions, was found to have the highest correlation with well-being, levels of life-satisfaction and meaning. From this perspective curiosity is a set of beliefs that become a personal motive to be proactive and get involved in things and is associated with resilience and ability to cope with uncertainty. People who engage in joyous exploration tend to enjoy uncertainty.
Deprivation sensitivity refers to having a high ‘need to know’ and not be left out. These people tend to believe that a good life revolves around the achievement of goals and a purpose, as opposed to simply the pursuit of pleasurable experiences (joyous exploration). People whose curiosity is based on sensitivity to deprivation were found to be significantly more likely to suffer from anxiety than any other form of motivation to engage in curiosity.
The stress tolerance dimension was found to be where individuals engage in curiosity because they believe they are independent individuals, able to cope with anxiety (grit) and uncertainty. It was found that this was the dimension where people are least likely to have a maladaptive or unhealthy outcome, such as avoiding situations and stress reactions, and they were found to have the highest level of psychological flexibility and the highest tolerance for distress.
Social curiosity is based on an individual’s need to form meaningful connections with others. This motivation to engage in curiosity is the opposite of those people whose curiosity is based on stress tolerance and who are interested in autonomy. This form of curiosity is to promote a sense of belonging and togetherness.
Thrill seeking reasons for engaging in curiosity come from a sense that life is about living and pleasure, hedonism and getting the most out of life. Thrill seeking reasons for engaging in curious behaviours are not so much about learning or growing, (central traits for joyous exploration and deprivation sensitivity), but rather for the experience and belief in a you only live once mentality.
The 4 curiosity profiles
Further, the study found that from these dimensions, four profiles – or types of curious people – emerged:
- The fascinated
- Problem solvers
• Score the highest on:
a. Joyous exploration
b. Stress tolerance
c. Thrill seeking
and lowest on deprivation sensitivity.
• Tend to be extraverts or ambiverts.
• Tend to have eclectic reading and information sources. For example, they tend to view a significantly wider range of websites compared to avoiders.
• Tend to score high for independence and romance.
• Tend to score high for values around and have concern for social justice and environmental issues.
• Are most likely to feel they can cope in most situations and have high emotion regulation capabilities. (However, they scored lowest for feeling that their life was under control.)
• Have more ‘friends’ on social media than any other profile.
• Tend to have a larger number of areas of expertise compared to any other profile.
• To be more likely to be interested in politics and travel.
• Are likely to subscribe to more magazines and publications than any other profile.
• Score highest on deprivation sensitivity.
• Score high on joyous exploration and low on social curiosity.
• Score high for the adaptive personality traits of conscientiousness ,agreeableness and openness.
• Score high average for neuroticism.
• Score average for hedonism, independence and romance.
• Problem solvers were found to have the lowest scores for apathy.
• They also rated very high for giving the impression that their life was under control.
• Problem solvers were found to have the second largest number of areas of expertise after the fascinated.
• Engaged with the 3rd highest number of types of website after the fascinated and the empathisers.
• Were found to have the third highest number of friends and followers on the social networks.
• Were found to have an average number of interests compared to the general population.
• Have a higher average level of tolerance towards stress.
• Were found to have the lowest social curiosity of any of the curiosity types.
Empathiser curiosity types
• Score highest on social curiosity and low on thrill seeking.
• Tend to score higher in neuroticism and high on the adaptive personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness) and lowest on apathy.
• Tend to score average compared to the population for independence , romance and hedonism.
• Score very high for status (which was found to be a core value for empathisers), but were found surprisingly to have low scores for social justice and the environment.
• Were found to be very high (second only to the fascinated) for being in touch with their own emotions and those of others.
• Were found to be average for giving the impression that their life was under control.
• Were found to be second only to the fascinated in terms of areas of expertise.
• Scored the lowest on Stress tolerance, Joyous exploration and Thrill seeking.
• Tend to get very low scores for what are considered the adaptive personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness).
• Tend to be higher in neuroticism than any other profile.
• Show the highest level of apathy to new situations.
• Have the lowest interest in prosocial activities, social justice, the environment and independence.
• Are most likely to feel stressed at any particular time and the least likely to feel capable of dealing with difficult situations.
• Have the lowest consistent score for passionate interest in things (the fascinated have the highest, followed by problem solvers and empathisers).
• Have the smallest numbers of areas of expertise of all the profiles.
• Are the least likely to take an interest in politics, travel, sports, technology, fashion or finance.
• Have, by some margin, the least number of friends and followers on social media, the least number of interactions on social media and the least number of social media channels they engage with.
• Were least likely to engage with magazines at all and have the lowest range of interests and types of websites visited.
Overall, the 5DC (5 Dimension Curiosity Scale) was found to be valid, as were the profile clusters
Kashdan, T. B., Stiksma, M. C., Disabato, D. J., McKnight, P. E., Bekier, J., Kaji, J., & Lazarus, R. (2018). The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people. Journal of Research in Personality, 73, 130-149.
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