By: Rina Deshpande
Curiosity is a powerful predictor of behavior and new research shows it may be strong enough to help you choose healthier options in life.
I have a riddle for you. Ready?
A bus driver was heading down a street in a small town. He went right past a stop sign without stopping and turned left where there was a "no left turn" sign, ignoring a nearby cop car. Still, he didn't break any traffic laws. Why not?
Sit tight and keep reading. The answer appears later in this article.
Are you squirming a little? Curiosity piqued? If you're still reading to find out the answer to the riddle, you may exemplify a form of motivation identified in many psychology research findings, more recently a study led by Evan Polman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
William Arthur Ward eloquently defined curiosity as "the wick in the candle of learning." In research, curiosity is often defined as the appetitive drive to learn the unknown, or the desire for closure.
Curiosity has long been known to be a powerful predictor of behavior. Advertising moguls have capitalized on this psychological phenomenon for decades to encourage consumerism (e.g., "...with a special mystery prize in every box!"). More recently, "clickbait" internet headlines appear on your screen that promise shocking deals or rumor reveal by first clicking on an ad.
What's novel about Polman's particular study's results is not simply that curiosity can lead to a behavior such a buying or clicking, but that curiosity might be strong enough to mediate someone's choice of a more healthy behavior over a more tempting, unhealthy behavior.
In this four-study series, researchers sought to understand the antecedents to an individual's choices in two lab experiments and two field experiments. In particular, they focused on curiosity as a way to improve decision-making between "want" choices that offer gratification in the immediate moment and "should" choices, related to longer-term satisfaction and benefit.