How do we become curious or don’t we?

Keynote presentation by Robert-Jan Simons

25/11/10 How do we become curious or don’t we?


When Albert Einstein was asked why he was so learned, he answered that he was not learned but

curious. He stated that he became curious because his mother asked him everyday if he had posed

interesting questions. Recent research shows that curiosity is indeed a key variable in education. Curious

people with openness for new ideas are better learners in several respects. This raises questions such

as: How can we make people curious? How can we stay curious? How do we become curious persons?

The keynote will focus on answers to these 3 questions. Although some people are more curious than

others, this does not mean that we cannot influence curiosity and its development. One important

conclusion will be that curiosity is also a domain specific characteristic: one is not curious about

everything, but for certain things one is and for other not. Some people are only curious for a small

range of topics and others for a broad range. Different kinds of curious persons may be distinguished:

treasure-seekers, track-seekers, answer-seekers and sensation-seekers. Acquiring knowledge and doing

research about a topic makes one more and more curious: the more one knows, the more one wants to

know. Asking questions is an important skill that curious people have. How do we learn that? Making

people curious on the short term is a rather well documented skill in rhetoric, the advertisement

literature and arts. Main principles refer to disruption of expectations or perspective, holding back

information, asking questions and keeping next steps open. Examples of these principles will be given.

The final question to be treated (how can we become curious persons?) is the most difficult one to

answer. Some preliminary answers will be given. The lecture ends with an overview of practical

educational implications.


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