Now we get to the heart of what I’ve wanted to know about curiosity: what holds us back?
Why do some people retain their curiosity to solve perplexing problems, invent new technologies, or discover new worlds while others become less curious? Answering that question is my mission.
We usually recognize incurious people when we encounter them, much the same way we recognise the immature or unintelligent. They may be our children, our students, our fellow workers, or even ourselves. But how do we confront them? Do we simply tell them that they’re incurious and to snap out of it?
When confronted with motivating the seemingly unmotivated, psychologists and behavioral scientists suggest a first step. First, break the concept down into specific behaviors. Then, rather than correct the person, correct the behavior.
When I looked up the word incurious in the dictionary, I found a variety of synonyms I expected, such as apathetic, casual, complacent, and disinterested. So far so good. However, I also found two words that had completely escaped my vocabulary up until then: insouciant and pococurante. Like the punchline of a joke or the ending of a story, the meanings of these two words made me – guess what – curious.
“Insouciant” according to Webster’s, is an adjective that means being “free from concern” or “anxiety free.” Hmm, I remember my children being insouciant about math, which led to grades that were not their best.
“Pococurante” I discovered, is an adopted Italian word meaning “a careless or indifferent person.” When I was an MBA Program Chair, I never realised I had pococurantes (or pococuranti) enrolled in the program. Neither did I know that pococurantism was so prevalent among high schoolers.
Other definitions describing the incurious are more familiar, such as nonchalant, perfunctory (another good one, meaning lacking interest or enthusiasm), unconcerned, indifferent, or uninterested.
Beyond expanding our vocabularies, we can now better determine the specific behaviors associated with the incurious by learning its various definitions. For example, what do people do or not do when they are apathetic or uninterested? Remember, experts say that once we know the behaviours associated with being incurious, we’re better equipped to change their state.
To further this quest, let’s go back to the basics of curiosity discussed in Week 1.
We discussed how curiosity is innate to all of us and grounded in the notion of survival or finding food and shelter and being protected from predators.
Scientists tell us that all mammals have a limbic system within our brains. Designed to trigger memory, emotions, and arousal, the limbic system is the basis of our survival instinct. Before we continue our analysis of the incurious in humans, let’s briefly examine curiosity where it’s more vividly displayed, as in a few of our favorite creatures, beginning with cats.
Cats are in a continual state of curiosity. Even domestic cats maintain this inherent trait based on survival instinct. Felines aren’t necessarily more curious than other animals. They just tend to exhibit their curiosity more visibly and in a more entertaining fashion. If you’re a cat lover or study the behaviors of cats, you know what I mean.
Cats live in a constant state between curiosity and caution, exploring the territory but always remaining vigilant. It’s like our own feeling of caution and impending danger when we almost fall over backwards in a chair. That’s the world of cats, at least when they’re not napping.
Dogs are just as curious as cats for the same survivalist reasons, but they cultivate and display their curiosity in different ways. Long possessing the title “man’s best friend,” dogs, like cats, are what zoologists call an altricial species. That means they’re born blind and deaf and therefore totally depend on their mothers for their early survival. The opposite of altricial is precocial, which refers to animals that are largely independent and mobile at birth, such as horses or cows. (No charge for the extra lesson in zoology.)
The state of being altricial tends to enhance animals’ curiosity. From the moment they’re born, unable to see or hear, they almost immediately search for their sustenance and protection. This helpless condition appears to serve as an early catalyst for their curiosity and survival.
Ever watch dogs during a walk in the woods or the park? They sniff everything, whether it’s humans, plants, or other dogs. Their highly developed sense of smell and their equally keen sense of hearing are their primary means of satisfying their never-ending curiosity.
Have you ever subjected your pet to a laser pointer and watched it madly chase the dot of red light? That’s another behavior of dogs and cats that’s not only entertaining but an example of their strong curiosity. Does this behavior mimic that of trying to catch prey? What seems like mindless fun to us is an element of the survival instinct they possess.
Monkeys display similar entertaining and curious behaviors. Cats, dogs, and monkeys all exhibit the innate nature of curiosity, grounded in the instinct to survive. There’s no such thing as an incurious cat or dog or monkey. They retain their survivalist instincts even when they’re domesticated.
That incurious distinction belongs to us humans.
Why? When we evolve beyond the state of survival, we allow our curiosity to diminish. You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them. But it doesn’t start out that way. Babies are born learners with a natural curiosity to figure out how they can survive and how the world works. Curiosity is the desire to learn, an eagerness to explore, discover, and figure things out.
Parents and caregivers don’t have to make infants curious or push their toddlers to learn. In fact, research shows that it’s an internal desire to learn and not external pressure that motivates them to seek out new environments to explore.
Watch babies as they follow sounds, faces, and interesting objects with their eyes. Notice as they shake a rattle and then put it into their mouth to see what this object can do and what it tastes like.
As babies age and figure out more and more of how the world works, their curiosity fades or becomes more focused or directed. Somewhere along the line, however, some people remain curious and others do not.
Why is that?
Share your thoughts on this and what you have taken away from this step in the comments below! As per the other weeks, you are encouraged to like and reply to your fellow peer’s comments too!
In the next step you will be introduced to FATE. It is said that four main factors hinder our ability to exert our full curiosities. We will explore what FATE stands for and the impeding factors it holds.