When we are children, our teachers and parents work tirelessly trying to stimulate our curiosity, understanding that a curious mind is a healthy mind, and one of the ingredients for thriving growth. When we are adults, however, the penchant for curiosity fades as our minds become laser focused on to-do lists, specializations, and worry over the day-to-day.
It’s time to bring curiosity back! At least according to the findings of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers. Evan Polman, PhD, and colleagues presented information at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association that suggests that curiosity can help people make healthier choices and smarter decisions.
“Our research shows that piquing people’s curiosity can influence their choices by steering them away from tempting desires, like unhealthy foods or taking the elevator, and toward less tempting, but healthier options, such as buying more fresh produce or taking the stairs,” said Polman.
The Science Behind Curiosity
Researchers conducted a series of experiments that tested the connection between curiosity and choices. In the first field study, researchers asked 200 people in the library whether they wanted a plain fortune cookie or a fortune cookie dipped in chocolate and sprinkles. Half of the people only received that basic information, while the other half were also told that inside the plain fortune cookie was something personal that the researchers knew about them. In the control group 80% of people approached chose the chocolate-covered fortune cookie. But in the experimental group in which curiosity was piqued, 70% of people chose the plain fortune cookie over the chocolate one!
Another study tested people’s choice to view a “high-brow intellectual video clip.” When told that they would learn the secret to a magic trick at the end of the clip, a greater proportion of people chose to watch.
A third field study showed that when researchers posted trivia questions near university elevators and disclosed the answers to the questions in the stairwell, the use of the stairs increased by 10%. In a similar manner, researchers increased the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables by 10% by putting jokes near the placards and revealing the jokes on bag closures.
Polman explains the effectiveness of the tactic of “clickbait,” which got its name from websites attempting to drive traffic with sensationalized copywriting techniques, like “You won’t believe what happened next,” or, “You’ll be shocked when you see this.” You’re hooked in with just enough information that your curiosity is aroused and you click, or in this case take the stairs or buy the veggies, in order to satisfy your curiosity.
What could these findings be used for? According to Polman: “Our results suggest that using interventions based on curiosity gaps has the potential to increase participation in desired behaviors for which people often lack motivation. It also provides new evidence that curiosity-based interventions come at an incredibly small cost and could help steer people toward a variety of positive actions.”
How to Be Curious
It’s just as important to be curious as adults and rekindle your desire for exploration and discovery. We tend to get locked in on our current field of expertise. Broaden your focus and become curious about other fields of interest. Cultivate a hobby and expand your passions!
Let your imagination run wild by adding the question “what if” to your vocabulary. Read, listen to podcasts, and practice asking questions. Remember what your favorite elementary school teacher always said: There are no dumb questions! So, ask away and live healthy with a forever-curious mind.