What is the difference between being curious about the private lives of famous people or being curious about how a nuclear power plant works? Are there different types of curiosity? Is one better than the other? Are they all born from the same place, from restlessness, from comecome?
The British psychologist Daniel Berlyne (1924 – 1976) was in charge of differentiating the different types of curiosity in a two-dimensional graph.
Along one axis, Berlyne placed a curiosity that ranged from the specific (the desire or need for different information) to the diversive (the incessant search for stimuli to avoid boredom).
On the other axis was perceptual curiosity (aroused by surprising, ambiguous or novel stimuli) to epistemic (the true longing for new knowledge).
Basic scientific research, then, would belong to the epistemic-specific quadrant of the graph . But the curiosity that drives you to continually browse Twitter for headlines or the desire to see if there are new text messages are more likely to be in the perceptual-diversive region. That is, people who are looking for distraction, excitement or surprise.
Berlyne also contributed fundamentally to the study of curiosity by identifying what he understood to be the class of factors that determined whether something was interesting or worth exploring:
- Novelty : new or unpublished objects or events (out of a smartphone)
- Complexity : what is analyzed does not obey clear patterns but rather contains a diversity of loosely integrated components (behavior in the economy)
- Uncertainty : situations where any number of alternative outcomes are possible (meteorology)
- Conflict : new information is incompatible with existing knowledge or trends (there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).
So, before affirming that curiosity killed the cat, perhaps it would be necessary to elucidate what kind of curiosity we are talking about.