What is the psychology behind being curious

Curiosity: Why the “childlike” trait is so important

Are you a curious person? Curiosity is a trait that is usually attributed primarily to children and is not infrequently dismissed as impolite in adulthood. It is not so good to piss off your child's curiosity. How so? Because it is an important quality for a successful professional life - and we would like to tell you why.

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1. Definition: What does it actually mean to be curious?
2. Psychology: And in the beginning there was curiosity ...
3. Curiosity and motivation: the soft skills of tomorrow?
4. What does intrinsic motivation have to do with a career?
5. Curiosity: This is how you can rediscover “instinct”
6. Conclusion: curiosity is only for children? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that!

Definition: what does it actually mean to be curious?

The curiosity respectively Curiosity is a state in which a person is particularly thirsty for knowledge, in other words, has great interest in new information, new know-how, new skills or similar. Everyone is usually in this curious state from time to time. With some, however, curiosity is firmly anchored as a character trait, while with others it only comes to light every now and then. In addition, there may be one or the other person who has completely given up curiosity or deliberately suppressed it. But why?

"What I do not know will not hurt me."
(Ovid)

In our society, curiosity is unfortunately rather negative. It is considered childlike, “uncontrolled” behavior and is associated with negative expressions such as: Interfering in foreign affairs or asking about things “that are none of your business”. According to Wikipedia, curiosity is therefore divided into two different components:

  1. Curiosity can be one be an inner urge to entertain the mind through constant sensations. Such curious - quasi “sensational” - people then like to poke around in the lives of their fellow human beings, try out new action-packed hobbies or block the way for rescue workers as onlookers in accidents. This type of curiosity is primarily emotionally driven and is labeled as extremely negative in our society.
  2. It is different with the intellectually driven curiosity. It is to be seen as striving for information and knowledge without having to satisfy emotional (lack) needs. The “thirst for knowledge” is therefore often used as a synonym. This kind of curiosity is to be assessed as positive and can become an important key competence for a successful professional life.

Psychology: And in the beginning there was curiosity ...

William McDougall, born on June 22, 1871, was one of the first psychologists to study instincts intensively - and thus curiosity as well. He found that curiosity occurs in infancy even before the ability to speak is discovered. His conclusion was therefore: Curiosity is an innate instinct and not (!) An acquired character trait.

"Instinct denotes a purposeful action,
where we have no precise idea of ​​what the purpose is. "

(Nicolai Hartmann)

Curiosity is firmly anchored in every person at birth and is later shaped by upbringing, society and culture. In Germany it is - as already mentioned - as "Undesirable" or even "rude" quality and is therefore not infrequently withdrawn from children in childhood or adolescence. So it's no wonder that politeness and good behavior are top priorities in a survey regarding the most important educational goals for parents, while curiosity and the thirst for knowledge are only found in the middle at 66 percent.


You can find more statistics at Statista

A distinction between the described positive and negative curiosity, however, only takes place in the rarest of cases. While the control of the “emotionally driven” curiosity, which is viewed as negative, is definitely desirable, one would be Promoting the “thirst for knowledge” makes sense at an early age. But don't worry: since an instinct is never lost, you can wake it up again in adulthood. But for what and above all: how?

Curiosity and motivation: the soft skills of tomorrow?

For what? Very easily: Curiosity is directly related to (intrinsic) motivation of a human. It is therefore not infrequently listed as one of the most important soft skills under the name motivational ability, thirst for knowledge or thirst for learning.

Reading tip: "Soft skills vs. hard skills - which are more important?"

William McDougall also came to the result in the course of his research: Curiosity is the most important foundation of motivation. This is what is known as intrinsic motivation:

"Intrinsic motivation is the inner motivation of a person,
which arises out of itself and is independent of reward and other external factors. If an action is intrinsically motivated, it is carried out for its own sake. "

(Source: BWL-Wissen.net)

This intrinsic motivation is considered to be the basis of all cultural, intellectual and scientific achievements of mankind. In other words: technological progress, our medical know-how, all research and much more - all of this reached mankind simply because of their innate curiosity. If it didn't exist, we'd all still be in caves. This curiosity or intrinsic motivation doesn't even need one "Stimulus" from the outside. At this point it differs from the extrinsic motivation, which always comes from an expected

  1. Punishment or
  2. reward

results. The easiest way to explain this is with the famous example of the stubborn donkey: Let's say you want to get a stubborn donkey to move. But he does not budge. You now have two options to "drive" it:

  1. You can kick him from behind or hit him with a stick in the hope that he will move out of shock or to avoid further pain. So you act through punishment.
  2. Or you can hold a carrot within sight so that it begins to move towards the reward.

In both cases, there is a good chance the donkey will start moving. However, his motivation results from an outside stimulus, reward or punishment. If this drive dries up - so stop pedaling or if he has eaten the carrot - he will stop again and become a stubborn donkey.

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With intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, people always manage to motivate themselves "from within". It doesn't need any outside stimulus. So if you are still “intrinsically curious” in adulthood - like a child - that is, motivated to discover new things, acquire knowledge and develop yourself, you are usually not only more satisfied in your professional life, but also more successful.

What does intrinsic motivation have to do with a career?

We would like to explain this mechanism to you in more detail: Our western business world is based on extrinsic motivation. Most people go to work day after day in order to have enough money in their accounts at the end of the month to pay the rent, support the family or take a vacation (reward). Or, because they are afraid of being fired, of poverty or social decline (punishment). For many people, the reason to get up every morning and go to work is either the fear of punishment or the satisfaction of a reward, be it money, power or social standing.

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This also explains why so many Narcissists or even psychopaths can be found in the executive suite: You are exceptionally (extrinsically) motivated, resulting from inferiority complexes, striving for power, willingness to take risks & Co. As a result, they often work more, harder and more ruthlessly both towards themselves and their social environment - and rise faster and higher in the hierarchy.

Reading tip: "Cabinet of horrors in the office: is your boss a psychopath?"

It is precisely the extrinsic motivation that can mutate into an "addiction" for the reward - or the pathological fear of punishment - and thereby trigger a negative vicious circle. The result is not infrequently a stress-related mental or physical illness such as burnout syndrome.

It is different with intrinsic motivation: Those who act out of curiosity and enjoyment at work and learning themselves - and thus independent of rewards or punishments - usually do not have to torment themselves out of bed in the morning. Instead, you sleep better, feel more rested in the morning, get up more joyful, and drive to work more relaxed.

Reading tip: "Just relax: 5 tips for more serenity at work"

You work more motivated, are less prone to stress and simply more satisfied. This in turn means that in the long run you will remain healthier and more productive than your (purely) extrinsically motivated colleagues - and overtake them on the career ladder. Intrinsic curiosity or motivation is inextricably linked with professional success on a healthy basis.

Curiosity: this is how you can rediscover “instinct”

After all, almost half of Germans still describe themselves as curious or eager to learn, even in adulthood:

As mentioned earlier, curiosity is rooted in everyone as a kind of instinct. If you have "lost" it over the years or if it has been withdrawn from you, it is not irretrievably lost, but you can Rediscover your curiosity and awaken it again. Here are five simple tips to "train" your curiosity:

Tip 1) Overcome yourself to new experiences:

Many people shy away from the foreign and the unknown. After all, you never know what dangers lurk behind the next unopened door. In fact, curiosity can become painful if, for example, as a child you wanted to test how the hot iron felt while the mother was briefly inattentive. Especially with increasing age, many people get comfortable in their routine, with the same friends, places, hobbies & Co. Break out of this routine and overcome yourself to make new experiences again. You don't have to quit your job or take a skydive jump. Just change the radio station, go on vacation somewhere other than the last ten years or join a new club.

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The advantage: You perceive your life more consciously, collect new memories and thereby “slow down” your perceived lifetime. If that's not an argument ?!

Tip 2) Get advice:

Are you one of those people who are suspicious of any new information? Who have "no time" for detailed advice? Or who know everything best anyway? How about if in the future you could seek detailed advice before each of your (important) professional as well as private decisions? Arouse your curiosity about what knowledge a specialist can give you and expand your horizons - as well as your network.

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Even if you stay true to your previously formed opinion or decision, you have still trained your curiosity, expanded your general knowledge and made important new contacts - who knows what these will be useful for at a later point in time.

Tip 3) spend time with children:

Who are the most curious people you know? Probably children! The younger a child, the more pronounced is their instinct called “curiosity”. So, from now on, pay more attention to the curious behavior of your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. and try to get involved in the game. Imitate the curiosity of children and rediscover the world from a new perspective. Children can be a great inspiration - and not just when it comes to curiosity!

Tip 4) Play the "why game":

You are certainly familiar with this phase, because (almost) every child goes through it at some point: No matter what you say, it replies the question “Why?”. This will encourage you to think about many things from scratch. Use this game at work from now on and question things with a “why?”. Many employees, companies and organizations hold on to routines, processes and traditions that are actually unproductive or illogical. How so? Because nobody asks why and because of that there is neither problem awareness nor progress.

Therefore, from now on, question the decisions and routines in your job, in meetings or in your social environment with a "Why?" and start optimizing your (work) life with a curious attitude. However, you shouldn't get on the nerves of your colleagues or superiors. Here, too, as always in life: Find the right amount!

Tip 5) seize opportunities without fear of risk:

Finally, you should always seize opportunities in your professional life and approach the matter with curiosity instead of shrinking from an alleged risk. Be curious about where this new path will lead you and consider failure as an important lesson.

Reading tip: "Who dares wins - from risk taker to high-flyer"

Do not throw off opportunities such as your next business trip or a job offer with a lazy excuse out of fear of the unknown, but get more information and draw not only motivation but also a spark of courage from your newly acquired thirst for knowledge.

Conclusion: curiosity is only for children? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that!

It is time to break free of the negative view of curiosity and rediscover its positive sides. This not only makes you happier, more motivated and more successful in your job, but you also try out new things more often, thereby strengthening your self-confidence and developing your personality. Without curiosity, you would still be in your cradle today and could neither speak nor eat. So if it's such an essential drive in life why should you ever stop it ?! Anyone who thinks that curiosity is only for children is far from it. Try it out and go through your (professional) life with more curiosity. You will see: the changes will be positive!

How did you personally rediscover your curiosity? Do you consider curiosity to be an important success factor in your job or not? And why? What positive (or perhaps negative) consequences did a curious attitude to life have for you? We look forward to your experiences and suggestions on the subject in the comments!

Photo credit: pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

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