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If you’ve ever parented a toddler, you are familiar with the repetitive use of the question: “Why?”
- Why is the grass green?
- Why do I need to go to bed?
- Why are my eyes blue?
As described by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget in The Language and Thought of the Child, children are curious by nature. In fact it’s rare to find a child who doesn’t want to know more about everything. As children go through school, their curiosity takes on a slightly mercurial (rapidly changing) quality, rising and falling depending on who they are with, what the topic is, and how engaged they feel.
The University of Pennsylvania’s positive psychology researcher Ben Dean describes curious people as having an ongoing, intrinsic interest in both their inner experience and the world around them. He explains that curious people tend to be attracted to new people, new things, and new experiences, and they are rarely bored. Curiosity is a renewable resource. According to Walt Disney, “When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.”
What are the benefits of staying curious? Since it is mercurial, how can you become more of a thermostat than a thermometer—taking charge of your own interest?
The Science of Curiosity
In the early 1990s, the information gap theory of curiosity originated when social science professor George Lowenstein’s study of curiosity led him to what he felt was a simple truth—when there is a gap between what you know and what you want to know the body produces an emotional consequence that feels like an itch that needs scratching.
Curiosity isn’t necessary to survive in the way of food, water, and air; however, without curiosity who knows if you would have the inventions that define the species and set humans apart from other animals. Human curiosity stepped beyond looking for primary rewards like food and moved to bigger questions like:
- Who am I?
- What’s my purpose?
- Why am I here?
Curiosity propels innovation, spirituality, and self-reflection. The benefits of being curious create a reward circuit that continues to drive it forward. Much like rewarding a dog for performing a desired task like sitting or fetching a stick with a treat, your body has circuits of reward that prime you to keep seeking more information.
Here are seven benefits that curiosity bestows upon you.
1. Being Curious Helps You to Form Social Connections
Wondering about the lifestyles, thoughts, and beliefs of other people can lead to stronger social connections. Having an open mind to learn about differences without judgment can stem initially from curiosity. What was it like to grow up during the depression? How is growing up in a large family different than being an only child? When you start becoming interested in your friends’ and family’s experiences, connection increases as understanding deepens.
2. Curious People Report Higher Levels of Life Satisfaction
Your brain releases dopamine (the feel-good hormone) when something new is encountered. After experiencing curiosity, scientists have recorded people having higher levels of dopamine. It is also true that happy people are more curious which could mean the relationship is a bit like the question of the chicken and the egg—which comes first, curiosity or happiness?
3. Curiosity Is a Survival Skill
Novelty-seeking behavior trains your brain to be attentive to your surroundings, which in turn keeps you vigilant to both threats and rewards, as noted in Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It, written by human behavior journalist and author Ian Leslie.
4. Your Memory Functions Better When You Are Curious
In an experiment conducted where some participants were asked to memorize random facts and others were given the task of memorizing information on a topic of high interest. Subjects were doing this while getting MRIs. The results showed increased activity in the hippocampus (a region important to new memory formation).
5. Curious People Are Better at Remaining Calm
One study looked at how curious people fared in emotionally charged situations and conversations. It found that people who were curious had less aggressive responses to inflammatory comments and felt less animosity toward those who treated them poorly.
6. Curiosity and Creativity Go Hand in Hand
Not only does curiosity connect with creative endeavors like painting, dance, and music writing, it also helps you find solutions to problems at work and at home.
7. Curiosity May Buffer Health Problems
According to health psychology research, positive emotion may play a protective role in the development of disease. The chemicals released by your body when your curiosity is aroused seem to be connected to immune function.
How to Increase Your Curiosity
Knowing the benefits of being curious, here are six ways to foster more curiosity in your day.
- Ask more questions: Ask probing and open-ended types of questions. Listen deeply to the answer before forming an opinion.
- Seek novelty: Change up your patterns and try new things. Take a different route to work, try a new recipe, or take a class in something outside your usual interests.
- Meditate: Try a 21-day meditation experience or, if you have a regular practice, change it up and try a loving kindness meditation or a guided body-scan. Awareness and curiosity go hand in hand.
- Take action: When something piques your interest research it or try it.
- Be humble: Adults sometimes fall into the trap of thinking you are supposed to know everything. Behave as though you know nothing and remember there are no dumb questions!
- Read: Books can transport you to another time or place. Take advantage of your local library and explore new topics.
- Take a new perspective: Imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of a negotiation or conversation. Put yourself in the position of your noisy neighbor or your political nemesis and reflect genuinely on their side. Perspective taking fosters creative thinking and builds bridges between opposing opinions.
Curiosity has been rumoured to have killed the cat, but it seems that curiosity has more benefits than downsides.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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