God knows how many times have we
been told not to get curious about things since our childhood.  How many times have we been assured and
warned by those who thought being curious was the same thing as being
worried.  However our parents and
teachers should have known that the sense of curiosity lay at the very
foundation of learning.  Instead of
telling us “don’t get curious” they should have tried and channeled our sense
of curiosity into learning things.  Had
they done that, perhaps, a great majority of the society would have not
perceived “being curious” as an intrusion into others’ lives rather than
learning.  More importantly, they would
have been able to keep their sense of curiosity from turning into harmful, even
lethal, actions; they could have curbed it and channeled it into more
constructive directions.     Scientists
conducting theoretical studies on curiosity suggest that  “curiosity increases as the gap between the
things known by the individual and the things desired to be known by the
individual increases.”   It is a well-known
fact that we, as a nation, are overly curious. 
Are we curious because we want to know more and know things right? It
may prove hard to find answers to these questions. However, given our overall
intellectual level and our scientific achievements, one could think that we are
not into being curious about positive things and that our curiosity is mostly
tickled by trivial details.   

Curiosity
is a motive aroused by new and unfamiliar things.   Its only aim is to find out whatever it is
that the individual is curious about. 
Curiosity has drawn interest throughout the history.  Aristotle and Cicero described it as a
motivating desire, while St. Augustine and Hume defined it as passion; they
were later followed by a great number of theoreticians who tried to explain the
foundation of curiosity.   While Freud
suggested that sexual motives lay at the foundation of curiosity, Paige and
Hunt argued that it was an effort on the part of the individual to make sense
of the world.    Although no link has
been established thus far between curiosity and intelligence, the studies on
curiosity has nevertheless pointed towards creativity. In order to get a better
understanding of the sense curiosity, neurological studies have been proposed
in the recent years.   Those studies
suggesting that the striatum and hippocampus regions of the brain are activated
when we get curious and identifying the stimulating and rewarding effect of the
sense of curiosity have provided neurobiological support to the psychological
theories.

Anything that prevents understanding
can cause curiosity, but when something unknown has become known and the object
of curiosity has been discovered, the sense of curiosity is then replaced by
the sense of boredom. Yet the sense of curiosity is sometimes motivated by the
sense of boredom and emptiness and sometimes by deprivation. While unnecessary
things sometimes attract a great deal of curiosity, the real intriguing things
can slip off of our minds. This is because the level of curiosity changes
depending on the circumstances. For instance the things we are curious about as
a little kid appear simple and understandable as an adolescent.   When we grow up to be an adult, however, the
things we were curious about as an adolescent become, more often than not, meaningless
and scary.  About what do the adults get curious
about then?  An answer to this question
is limited to the level of knowledge of the adult himself/herself. Sometimes
you gain more knowledge by simply expanding your knowledge and thereby whetting
your curiosity, whereas sometimes you do not know what to be curious about due
to your limited level of knowledge and therefore become interested in knowing
trivial and unnecessary information. Curiosity is, then, a kind of intellectual
exercise. It keeps the mind vigorous. It brings new avenues and excitement to
life. You can be an adult and even lead a good life without having curiosity in
your life.     But one should remember
that, without curiosity, you are rarely efficient as an adult.  

 

 

Igniter of Learning: Curiosity 

Even when a baby turns to look at
your face or react to your voice at the very beginning of his/her life there is
curiosity all over the place. This is because curiosity lies at the very
foundation of learning. There are two types of curiosity: cognitive and
affective. Cognitive curiosity incites learning while affective curiosity
incites new emotions and experiences. 
But at the end of the day they both come to the point of learning and
development.

Every child reveals its curiosity
differently.  Some of them are interested
in the mysteries inherent in the world, and therefore wish to touch and smell
the things they are curious about. He/she has to get curious in order to find out
what is out there beyond his/her railing bed, outside his/her room and then the
house itself.  In fact such curiosity
takes hold of him/her even when he/she is tucked in bed.  He/she sucks on his/her thumb and then things
he/she finds due to his/her curiosity. He/she regards everyone approaching with
watchful eyes and tries find out what they are about. Thus the sense of
curiosity is ignited in childhood.  
Every child has a different level of curiosity.  Instead of stopping the children who are
curious, one should encourage those who are not curious to be curious. The best
way to guide children into discovering, learning and socializing is to support
and feed their sense of curiosity.   What
is going on out there?  How is the game
played?  How is their favorite chocolate
made?  Who has made the lamp that burns
at night to ward off the fear of darkness and how?  Curiosity thus feeds knowledge and the more
they know the more curious they will become. Discovery will delight them.  Delight as in the sense of desiring more and
doing it again.  All this is ignited by
the sense of curiosity.

Killing the sense of curiosity is,
in a way, to kill the child’s development and learning.  Fear is the worst enemy of curiosity.  The child who is scared does not wish to learn
new things, have the desire to discover. He learns to stick to what he/she is
already familiar with, and not to be nosy about anything more.   This explains why the children subjected to
abuse, domestic violence and physical force buries their curiosity deep inside
them. This is why the children experienced war and earthquake left their
curiosity buried in the debris along with their emotional wreckage.  Their silence is the result of their
destroyed sense of curiosity. The second worst enemy of curiosity is rejection
and prevention. Each sentence that goes “don’t touch it’s dirty” or every
warning along the lines of “don’t do it, don’t look, don’t go there” kills
curiosity.   Insecure, prevented,
unsupported and timid children are not curious, they cannot be curious. The
child that is not curious cannot develop emotionally, cognitively and socially.
It is difficult to teach a child that is not curious, but it is even harder to
grow up without any sense of curiosity.

When a child is around 3 years old he/she
voices his/her curiosity and starts asking things in order learn what is
what:  “What is this?” “Why is
that?“  “How did that happen” “Who did
it”… Such questions, out of curiosity, should be answered so that the child can
learn and be guided by his/her curiosity. 
Answers given to the child, suitable for his/her age and development
period, will ensure his/her development. 
Each drawer opened, each threshold attempted to be crossed marks the
beginning of the process of learning induced by a sense of curiosity.  Each hand that reaches out to stop the child,
albeit in the name of protecting the child, and every action taken without
necessarily satisfying the curiosity of the child triggers the mantra “Don’t
worry about it” which will go on for a lifetime.   This is because curiosity is dangerous.  That is true; you can never know what is
going to pop out from the drawer opened with curiosity or your hand might get
hurt while closing it and it could make you cry.  But this does not prevent you from getting
curious again. Because being a child means being curious, and children learn by
becoming curious and discovering things. Is it possible to find out that the
water wets the floor unless you spill it? or that the radiator is hot if you
never touch it yourself? or that a cat is hurt if you never pull its tail? Or
the taste of the chocolate if you never eat one.  Questions demand answers when they are asked.
It is in the nature of the child to learn what he/she is curious about and
become intrigued by new things.  The
fingers inserted into sockets and the toys broken to see what’s inside are all
out of curiosity. Sadly, most of the deaths and injuries seen among the
children aged 0 to 3, resulting from drinking bleach or burns after spilling
boiling water are also out of curiosity as well.

A child’s curiosity is not only
limited to the things on the outside.   A
child begins to get curious about his/her own body around when he/she is 3
years old. He/she becomes curious about the location of his/her organs, his/her
skin and, most importantly, his/her own sex. 
He/she finds out about his/her sexual organ first and then others and
then the difference in between. Venturing into the opposite sex’s toilet,
playing house and doctors are all because of this particular curiosity. If the
adults get angry with the child or embarrass him/her instead of satisfying
his/her curiosity, then the curiosity does not simply die down but a good
number of other problems get started. 
Such curiosity for which he/she receives no answer and that inspires
embarrassment and hidden feelings will go on for a lifetime and reach no
meaningful conclusion in any way. 
Curiosity also lies beneath the concept of voyeurism.  Voyeurism should not be dismissed merely as a
sickness.  Looking into lives of others
and deriving pleasure in doing so is clearly a psychiatric disorder.  But before dwelling on its psychiatric
aspect, one should first of all look into its most innocent manifestation,
namely the tendency towards gossip and celebrity culture and the voyeurism that
comes with the satisfaction of curiosity by seeing the images and lives of
others through the internet and social media without being seen, by way of
stalking, thanks to the advent in technology.  
Can’t this all be down to the peep culture that is created by the
curiosity which could not have been fully satisfied or left unfulfilled in
childhood due to parental reprimands and the housing games that caused such
embarrassment? Sexuality becomes one of the most curious subjects in the societies
where sexuality is regarded as a taboo. Sexuality, being an unacceptable fact
on one hand, is one of the driving forces of curiosity on the other hand.  And thus the bedrooms of others and their
upskirts turn into an area for peeping. 
Thanks to the technology, everything found out can be disseminated to
the entire society through visual and verbal gossip.   Satisfying our sense of anger, domination
and animosity in this way without even identifying ourselves is the highest
point that the sense of negative curiosity and gossip can possibly reach. 

 

Being young means being curious

The very core adolescence is
curiosity. It is the curiosity for growing up, being free and living.  The curiosity in childhood that is centered
on asking questions and discovering things is replaced, in adolescence, with
that of doing things and putting things into action. The youngster gets curious
and wishes to try doing whatever it is that tickles his/her curiosity. The
youngster’s curiosity is mostly for the new and different.  The artists that inspire curiosity are
usually those who are different and out of the ordinary. New instruments are
seen interesting. For this reason, they have mixed feelings about the things
being taught in school.  Their curiosity
for learning is no less than that of a child. 
However their curiosity is motivated by the presentation of the
knowledge as much as its contents. The youngster gets curious about the things
he/she wishes to learn rather than what is tried to be taught to him/her by
others. He/she finds his/her friends, relationships, sports teams, artists etc.
more interesting than those instructed in the lessons. Things that inspire
curiosity in young people are so vast. However curiosity can sometimes be
dangerous.   The fire that fascinates the
child could burn him/her. Affective curiosity that fuels new thrills and
experiences increases with the adolescence. Harmful behaviors involving use of
substance, cigarette smoking, speeding, unprotected sexual intercourse and
other self harming activities as well as all other actions considered to be
crime are all because of such curiosity. 

Once the child enters adolescence,
his/her parents too become curious. Being curious about what the adolescent kid
has done or will do becomes a duty on the part of the parents themselves. The
young distance himself/herself from his/her family as he/she becomes more and
more curious while the family’s curiosity increases with his/her distance. The
mutual curiosity becomes the biggest problem between the family and the young.
The curious family investigates, pokes, monitors, interferes and tries to
satisfy their curiosity. The young, on the other hand, tries to set a limit to
their curiosity.  The curiosity of the
family increases the young’s curiosity for the outside.  It causes the young to distance
himself/herself even more and hide his/her feelings and thoughts even
deeper.  But if only they could share
their curiosity, ask and admit them to one another, they could perhaps set out
to common curiosities.   Perhaps if the
parents could stop saying “You have to share it”, maybe then the young would
satisfy their curiosity without saying “It’s none of your business”.

In adolescence sexuality is a world
of its own over which parents can have no or a very little influence.   The adolescent is curious about sexual
issues and wishes to try them. Playing house is no longer a game for him/her;
it turns into a risky enterprise in which the young engages himself/herself
sometimes without really thinking about its consequences. There are a lot of
channels of information at his/her disposal.  
Then again, the chances are the knowledge thus he/she gains may not be
true and his/her experiences in this field may result in failure.  He/she may find himself/herself searching for
the symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease that he/she has contracted and
knows nothing about when he/she should really be satisfying his/her curiosity
in sexuality.  However the result of such
curiosity may be interrupted with the shocking news that he/she may be a parent
to child while he/she himself/herself is growing up. 

Increasing sense of curiosity does
not necessarily guide them towards risky behaviors all the time. But
nevertheless new risky thrills and experiences rarely help the young to find
new solutions and make discoveries that are risky but beneficial at the same
time. Children grown up securely always become more curious and open to gaining
knowledge and may develop themselves by changing their minds based on such
newly gained knowledge.  

THE DARK AND LIGHT SIDES OF
CURIOSITY

Curiosity is a feeling that affects
an individual’s behaviors in a positive or negative manner throughout his/her
life cycle.  The desire for confirming
one’s knowledge or feelings is important. 
Curiosity, from childhood to adulthood, is a must for scientific
progress.  If it had not been for such
curiosities, neither the landing on the moon nor such inventions that
simplifies our lives as telephone or electricity would have been possible
today.    Gathering unnecessary and
trivial information, substance abuse, unprotected sexual intercourse and other
harmful acts are also the results of curiosity. 
Yes, curiosity is indispensable for new discoveries and learning.  But it is equally important to know what to
do to stop our curiosity before passing over to the dark side. You have to
decide whether you will use this feeling in a positive or negative manner while
you are growing up or raising children yourself.  Because curiosity may, all of a sudden, turn
into a weapon that is pointed towards you.  
We don’t know for sure if curiosity kills the cat, but when you fail to
be curious about right things you may become acquainted with the dark
side.  The loneliness you find there will
only increase such darkness.  And trust
me you won’t be able to find any positive or exalting values in loneliness and
darkness to get curious about. Yet instead of telling children and youngster
that “Don’t get curious” or “Get curious about only good things and
the things that I approve of”, and by providing them secure ways in which they
can satisfy their curiosity and hoping that their risky ventures will only turn
out to be new discoveries will help adults remain in light and away from
darkness. 

Prof. Dr. Bengi Semerci

Psikeart

November-December 2013 

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