The Essential Difference between 'Being Curious' and 'Taking an Interest'

Psychological researcher Suzanne Hidi discusses what separates individuals who have mere curiosity in life from those who, through taking a deeper interest, are propelled onto new discoveries.

Suzanne Hidi: Curiosity has been often referred to as closing a knowledge gap. And this goes back to [Daniel] Berlyne's work, goes back to a lot of work being done by [Jordan] Litman and his colleagues presently — would distinguish between two forms of curiosity: interest, epistemic curiosity and knowledge gap curiosity; deprivation they call it. The reason that they call it deprivation is because there has been an argument that if you are curious, there is a certain kind of negative feeling that you experience before your curiosity is satisfied. And once you have this answer, you feel a relief and a positive feeling comes over you. We argue that if you are interested and you are searching for more information, that is a rewarding experience and you do not necessarily or you are unlikely to have an aversive feeling, except you can have negative feelings develop because you have a problem in your search. But that's different than trying to close a knowledge gap. The way that I can best demonstrate [to] you how we consider curiosity and interest to be different is by telling you to think about when you read a detective story. When you read a detective story, the minute you find out who actually is the murderer, you might not even want to finish your book. And compare that to reading, let's say, Harry Potter or some really well-constructed book that you're not simply trying to find out a knowledge gap; you are interested in many of the characters; you are interested in the ideas; you are interested in the relationships; and you will keep on reading that book. Not only is the length of time different and the aversion different, but there are also — the purpose is different. Like when you are interested, you are searching for a lot of information, not just a specific information to close the knowledge gap. Now, there are some unanswered issues about this. For example, what happens if you have interest in a content, but there is a knowledge gap that you're closing; is that now different from just being curious? And we argue that it is. Because, for example, take a bridge expert who loves playing bridge; he is reading a book with many, many puzzles, solving bridge hands. He goes and solves a knowledge gap and then continues going on to other questions, other puzzles because he has that individual interest in the content that propels him to go on for further activity.

There's an important difference among the ways we approach our own lack of knowledge. When we want to know something, are we satisfied once we've found the answer? Do we stop reading the detective novel once we've discovered who committed the crime, or are we suddenly intrigued by new questions? Psychological researcher Suzanne Hidi says this difference — between curiosity and interest — can help us understand why some people appear far more motivated and engaged in their lives than others. Are you curious in life, or are you interested?

3 ways to find a meaningful job, or find purpose in the job you already have

Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.

Videos
  • Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
  • There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
  • "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Keep reading Show less

Physicist advances a radical theory of gravity

Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.

Photo by Willeke Duijvekam
Surprising Science
  • The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
  • The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
  • While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
Keep reading Show less

UPS has been discreetly using self-driving trucks to deliver cargo

TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.


PAUL RATJE / Contributor
Technology & Innovation
  • This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
  • UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
  • TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.
Keep reading Show less