Why are people curious

Why are we so curious?

You are curious. This is shown by our Facebook post about an exciting innovation in Graz. But what is curiosity about?

Yes, curiosity is a dog. We often find ourselves sticking our noses into completely strange matters. But what is curiosity about? We want to find out - and also try it out. We have therefore deliberately teased this article on Facebook as follows:

A title that arouses curiosity: It's about our city, about the beloved center in Graz. And when something new happens, that's usually of interest. Manuela Paechter, head of the educational psychology department at the Institute for Psychology at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, knows that too - she was there to answer our questions about curiosity.

"Curiosity is essential for human development"

“Since people have been interested in what their fellow human beings are doing, curiosity has had a questionable reputation,” wrote the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” last year. Why does curiosity actually have bad gossip?
Paechter: The term curiosity should be precisely described. In psychology, curiosity means first of all that you show interest in the environment or your surroundings and want to get to know and explore them. So you want to get to know things that you don't know yet. Think what you haven't thought before, so learn. Curiosity is essential for human development, including the development of memory and the brain. No human development without curiosity. In addition, the concept of curiosity is understood differently in everyday life - as the quote from the "Süddeutsche" shows. Here it is curiosity about the other person that includes a negative evaluation of the stranger. This does not correspond to the concept of curiosity in psychology, which is meant in a value-neutral manner. Curiosity about other people, about other cultures can be positive and mean that you look at other facts or other people in a neutral way and form your own judgment.

Why do people want to know so much anyway?
Paechter: In psychology, a distinction is made between different reasons why people do something or are interested in other people or in things. One of the most important of these motivations is the so-called curiosity motive. Motive means that curiosity is a permanent characteristic of our person: both animals and humans have a curiosity motive. It causes animals and humans to turn to new, unknown and unfamiliar situations and facts, to focus their attention on them and to explore them. It is assumed that people are endowed with the curiosity motive from birth. Psychology uses curiosity as an important explanation for the spiritual development of humans.

Does it start in childhood?
Paechter: Even newborns have curiosity. For example, shortly after birth, they touch their bodies in a targeted manner and thus learn about themselves and the environment. They are also able to follow objects that move in their field of vision with their eyes. They look at objects that they do not yet know with particular attention, i.e. curiously.

"Curiosity can be dangerous"

Curiosity is encouraged in children - they should learn something. Why does change come later?
Paechter: Curiosity does not go out in later phases of life. It is shifting to other areas. For example, when people travel, they want to discover new things; when we make new acquaintances and friendships, we discover new things. Openness towards other people includes curiosity about the supposedly other. But there are also many examples where people are interested in learning even in adulthood and are curious about the content of knowledge - people who learn a language or attend a community college course.

Is curiosity dangerous from a certain point?
Paechter: Curiosity can be dangerous if you cannot realistically assess the environment you are exploring and if you cannot assess which behavior has negative consequences. An example of this is the child who touches the hot stove and burns himself. Such learning is also very effective (albeit also unpleasant or even painful) and has the effect that one no longer shows the behavior that led to such consequences.

Curiosity and fear are often intertwined. Why?
Paechter: Fear can limit or even completely inhibit curiosity. Fear of objects, of a certain environment or of certain people leads to avoidance of them. Unfortunately, you don't learn anything about these unknown things or people and you can't revise wrong impressions. However, fear is not all negative. However, it should not be too high or too low. With the “right level”, a low level of fear, there is still caution to explore new things, but also to consider the possible consequences of the behavior.

Sounds interesting, doesn't it? And means that you can all continue to be curious. Oh yes ... we still owe you one thing from "Futter". We promised you something new in Graz on Facebook. How about this one: A new chain is opening again in the city center! Or this: Graz could look much greener in one fell swoop.

Michael Kloiber