BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It might have killed the cat but a new study by
psychologists at the University at Buffalo suggests that curiosity
is very good for people.
Their study concludes that the degree to which people are
curious actively influences their personal growth opportunities and
the level of intimacy that develops when they meet someone new.
The study was conducted by Todd D. Kashdan and Paul Rose, both
doctoral students in clinical and social psychology at UB, and
Frank Fincham, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the UB Department of
Psychology and a highly published author in the study of
interpersonal functioning and relationships.
It was reported in August to the Positive Psychology Summer
Institute in Wilmington, Delaware, and to the 2001 Annual Positive
Psychology Summit, Washington, D.C. Two related manuscripts
currently are under review for publication in professional
It is the first study to examine how curiosity affects the
genesis of intimacy, and tests a new theory about how curiosity
influences the growth of personal and interpersonal resources. The
study also is the first to employ two new personality inventories
developed by the research team to measure the levels of
individual's "trait" and "state" curiosity.
It found that highly curious individuals tend to experience more
positive interpersonal outcomes than the less curious in different
social contexts as a function of the way they process rewarding or
"appetitive" stimuli during the relationship process.
"These results," said Kashdan, "may be important to studies of
intrinsic motivation in the classroom and workplace, the role of
curiosity in continuing education on personal growth,
investigations into whether self-motivating activities mitigate
risk factors for distress, and whether engaging curiosity in public
communications will make messages more effective."
The research is related to the field of "positive psychology,"
Kashdan's specialty. Rather than focusing on pathological behavior
such as the way conflicts arise, positive psychology attempts to
understand how people cultivate positive subjective experiences,
optimal functioning, personal strengths and positive
For the purposes of the study, curiosity was conceptualized as a
positive emotional-motivational system associated with the
recognition, pursuit and self-regulation of novel and challenging
"Both the state and trait of curiosity promotes exposure to
novel and challenging opportunities," says Kashdan, "which, in
turn, are precursors to learning and personal growth, the
development of intimacy and perhaps greater satisfaction and
success in the interpersonal domain.
"One of the hypotheses in this study," he says, "is that the
subjects' individual differences in trait and state curiosity would
predict whether and how interpersonal closeness develops between
Ninety volunteer subjects -- 45 males and 45 females, all UB
students -- completed two Curiosity Exploration Inventories (CEIs)
developed by the researchers.
The first inventory was completed before the experiment began,
and measured each subject's a) general tendency to actively seek
novel and challenging information and experiences, and b)
propensity to enter a state of "flow" -- that is, to become deeply
absorbed in activities. Kashdan says these measures indicate the
extent to which each subject possessed the trait of curiosity.
The second inventory was completed by the subjects before and
after they participated in the experiment. It measured each
subject's immediate (and perhaps momentary) desire to seek new
things and actively engage in the task at hand, an index of the
subject's state of curiosity before and during the task.
(Those interested in taking the inventories themselves and/or
reading the original research can find them at http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~kashdan.)
Subjects were assigned randomly to a male-female couple. The 45
couples then were selected randomly to be introduced into one of
two experimental situations: one designed to generate interpersonal
closeness or intimacy between the partners, and one set up to mimic
a casual, small-talk situation.
The couples in the intimacy-provoking situation spent 45 minutes
taking turns asking and answering, in a predetermined order, a set
of questions provided for them, each question more probing than the
last. The conditions were designed to elicit more and more personal
and emotional self-disclosures. Questions included:
__For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
__If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself,
your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to
__If you were going to become a close friend with your partner,
please share what would be important for him or her to know.
The couples assigned to the "small talk" situation were also
given a set of questions and took turns asking and answering them.
"Small talk" questions included:
__When was the last time you walked for more than an hour?
Describe where you went and what you saw.
__ What is the best TV show you've seen in the past month that
your partner hasn't seen? Tell your partner about it.
__ Where did you go to high school? What was your high school
When the interactions ended, all subjects completed a series of
self-reporting measures that assessed how close they felt to their
Each subject also completed a series of measures that assessed
the degree of attention he paid to his partner, the level of
conversational involvement demonstrated and the degree to which
each subject injected novel or playful subject matter into the
Says Kashdan, "We found an interaction between trait curiosity
and the experimental condition. Low-curiosity subjects experienced
greater closeness in the intimacy-producing situation than in the
small-talk condition. High-curiosity individuals, however,
experienced high levels of closeness in both social contexts."
The specific results were as follows:
__Subjects with high CEI scores directed more attention to their
relational partners, capitalized on positive features of their
personal interactions, self-generated interest and fun by being
playful, were responsive to their partners' interests, contributed
novel ideas and topics to the conversation.
__ In both experimental situations, subjects with high CEI
scores reported feeling significantly closer to their partners, and
their partners reported feeling significantly closer to them, than
did subjects with low CEI scores and their respective interaction
__On average, regardless of the experimental situation to which
they were assigned, subjects with high CEI scores and their
partners reported feelings of closeness equal to or above the
midpoint (3.5) of a seven-point Likert attitude scale.
__Subjects with low curiosity scores scored well below the
scale's midpoint in the small-talk condition. They had relatively
higher scores under intimacy conditions, but those scores were
still lower than those reported by high-curiosity subjects.
__Considering that their interaction was only 45-minutes long,
the extent of closeness generated between high-curiosity
individuals and their partners was surprising. They all reported
feelings of closeness above the conceptual midpoint even when
comparing their feelings to other relationships in their life.
__During the potentially boring small-talk encounters, those
with high CEI scores, reported using "approach" behaviors like wit
and questioning their partners to liven up conversations,
transforming them into more interesting encounters.
"In our study," says Kashdan, "individuals with high levels of
curiosity exhibited approach and pleasure-seeking behaviors
irrespective of their social context. This increased the likelihood
of positive interpersonal outcomes such as shared feelings of
intimacy between strangers."
Kasdan says, "This means curiosity is an important construct
that appears to have relevance not only to education and learning,
but to the development of intimacy and, perhaps, greater
satisfaction and success in the interpersonal domain."
He said studies of curiosity could add a new and important
dimension to research into creativity, humor, aesthetic
appreciation and interpersonal relationships conducted in the
fields of clinical, educational and industrial psychology.