some curious notes

You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk

There are always those things that are never truly explained. We get the gist of what is going on, but we are never satisfied with these partial answers. Curiosity is that state of wanting to know more about something. The absence of curiosity is boredom, ennui, satiety, taking no interest, minding one’s own business, or uninquisitive.

Children are held up as the exemplars of curiosity and encouraging curiosity is one of the key strategies for ensuring the emotional and educational development of children. What happens to curiosity in adults? What makes some people more curious than others?

Psychologists are greatly interested in curiosity is a motivational force. Neurobiologists note that high levels of curiosity increase neurological pathways in the brain. The idea of curiosity was ‘rediscovered’ in the laboratories of the 1950’s when rats continued to explore mazes after their needs for water and food had been satisfied. What could explain this seemingly cause-less behaviour? Was there a biological drive that needed satisfying? A behavioural explanation is that curiosity is a response to complexity, surprise or novelty in the external environment. We use curiosity to order these stimuli and find a state of optimal stimulation: curiosity is used to remove the anxiety of too many new things in the external environment; whilst at the same time no stimulus results in a condition of boredom relieved by undertaking curiosity-seeking behaviour. In this model we do it because we respond to a need.

Yet there is something incomplete in what they say.

What about curiosity about things that are abstract — scientific curiosity or metaphysical wonder –which are not related to exploration or evolutionary need?



Is the world too stimulating and are we becoming less curious?

The BBC reports that its not only the volume of mobile phone calls in public places that other listeners find irritating, but that we are only listening to half an conversation, and are denied the normal state of fulfilment that we expect in human communication. Our curiosity is piqued.

People who do not have experiences of curiosity can exhibit depression, higher levels of sensation-seeking or thrill seeking behaviour.

It is easy to say that curiosity, along with creativity, plays an important part in the initial states of artmaking and scientific research. But wonder should not be forgotten. Less explaining is needed. A child beginning to walk is just as satisfied with being able to do it, than with any form of competitive achievement. David Beswick (2000) argues that curiosity is an intrinsic motivation undertaken because the activity is rewarding in itself, and not because the activity is a means to something else (with an extrinsic reward).

Research suggests that if you start paying someone doing something that they might have done for some idle curiosity, then they are less likely to do it again for free — a way to kill curiosity.

Do you seek curiosity? What are highly curious people like?


Beswick (2000) proposes a cognitive model where curiosity is “a process of creating, maintaining and resolving conceptual conflicts. Such conflicts arise from a lack of fit between an incoming signal or stimulus and a cognitive map or category system which represents the world from past experience”Some people recognise more curious situations than others and some aficionado even go as far as to pursue curious states. But if you want to ignore conceptual conflict you can change what you thought you saw (ignore or dismiss) or you can change your model of the world — all slippery accommodation of difference and no stress or conflict.

A highly curious person cannot ignore what they perceive but cannot fit the puzzle into their cognitive map. They seek additional information to match the two. They are confident of their map but not afraid of changing it, and have better skills to gather information and solve conflict. Beswick argues that highly curious people are both opened to novel stimuli and a concerned with orderliness. Without an ordering impulse, the cognitive map just becomes a jumble.

Do you agree?


For Beswick the conflict between the map and the perception is central to curiosity. Successful curious people are able to integrate and resolve.

“Highly curious people will remain longer than others in situations of uncertainty …they will have the capacity to carry out the integration required to create a sense of cosmos where there was the threat of chaos. That is, they will be able, typically, and more than most people, to create, maintain, and resolve conceptual conflicts.” (Beswick 2000)

Curiosity belongs at the border between chaos and cosmos, but where does the balance between order, and the inexplicable, lie?


A curiosity is also an unusual thing — perhaps worthy of collection — a curio, an oddity, an oddment, a peculiarity or rarity. Perhaps the paradoxical conditions of curiosity can be connected with the serious collector’s endless deferral of the completion of a collection. Some objects, too, show an anxiousness in their formulation — a state of infirmity in the material firmament. You ask a question and you expect an answer. And when the answer doesn’t satisfy? Curiosity often leads to more mess than mastery.


The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
Ellen Parr

see also a short list of curious sites


Beswick, D. (2000). An Introduction to the Study of Curiosity. Retrieved 1 October, 2004, from

BBC. (2004, 21 April 2004). Curiosity fuels anger at mobile chat. Retrieved 1 October, 2004, from