Different Kinds of Curiosity

My eldest child likes to figure out how things work. When she was three, she shocked our neighbor by explaining the mechanics of a refrigerator. She’d pestered her dad with questions until he found a set of schematics and talked her through them. She even convinced him to unscrew the back so she could see the frig’s innards for herself.

Curiosity is both an innate characteristic and a learned skill. Every child is wired to seek out and take in new information, although to differing degrees. Some demonstrate an insatiable appetite for new data, whereas others are content with less or focus their areas of inquiry on particular topics.

Children’s levels of curiosity are also affected by how those around them respond to their questions. Many societies view curiosity as valuable as long as it is used in acceptable ways, such as for learning school lessons or getting to know other people. Most also have stories or sayings (such as ‘curiosity killed the cat’) that point to the dangers of too much or misdirected curiosity.

Experts say this is because curiosity comes in different forms. Three of the most studied are general interest curiosity, conversational curiosity, and deprivation curiosity. General interest curiosity prompts children to feel awe and wonder and then seek information that helps them make sense of things they don’t understand. It is related to intellectual humility and essential to learning

Conversational curiosity is similar to general interest curiosity. It involves being open to discovering new things about other people. Children show signs of this relational form of curiosity when they listen carefully to others, ask thoughtful questions, and communicate that they want to get to know someone better. It requires tolerance for differences and a willingness to see things from others’ perspectives.

Deprivation curiosity, on the other hand, is more problematic. It is linked to intellectual discomfort and a desire to remove uncertainty from life. While it can also drive children to seek answers, it often leads to feelings of frustration and a desire to shut down exploration as quickly as possible. This can mean a child rushes to conclusions and ignores information that doesn’t support their initial conclusions.

Parents and caregivers can encourage healthy forms of curiosity by noticing what fascinates children and supporting prolonged inquiry. If your child loves butterflies or construction vehicles, help them make a list of questions about these things and support their efforts to find answers. Underscore their awe at the amazing variety of butterfly wings or the power of a bulldozer. Wonder about new mysteries to explore based on new information.

Modeling constructive questions and exploratory interactions is another way to support positive forms of curiosity. Share what fascinates you and how you have learned more about that topic. Tell stories about getting to know other people better through asking their opinions. Make statements like “I really appreciated hearing about our neighbor’s work fostering dogs. Next time I see him, I’m going to ask what his favorite kinds of dogs are.” Emphasize your own sense of awe and wonder as you move through life, as well as your willingness to tolerate uncertainty even as you seek answers.



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