Curious About Curiosity? by Ben Dean, Ph.D.

Series Introduction - See Vol 2 Number 12

This week’s featured strength is Curiosity.


  • Curious people have an ongoing, intrinsic interest in both their inner experience and the world around them. Curious people tend to be attracted to new people, new things, and new experiences, and they are rarely bored.
  • Everyone possesses curiosity to some degree. People differ according to the strength and breadth of their curiosity and their willingness to act on it. (How motivated are you by your curiosity? Are you curious in one domain or across many domains?)

Benefits of Curiosity

  • Curiosity benefits our social and romantic lives. Curious people are often considered good listeners and conversationalists. In the early stages of a relationship, we tend to talk about our interests or hobbies. One reason for this is that people tend to equate “having many interests” with “interesting,” and for good reason. Curious people tend to bring fun and novelty into relationships.
  • Curiosity is associated with intelligence and problem-solving ability. Although researchers have not identified the precise pathway by which curiosity leads to cognitive growth, a likely explanation concerns the rich environment curious people create for themselves as they seek new experiences and explore new ideas. Put simply, curious brains are active brains, and active brains become smart brains.
  • Curiosity is associated with high performance in both academic and work settings. There is evidence to suggest an upward spiraling relationship between curiosity and knowledge. The more we learn, the more we want to learn, and so on.

The Downside to Curiosity: When Curiosity Kills the Cat

  • Curiosity in the absence of good judgment can lead to trouble. Do you recall Jessica Fletcher, the author/amateur sleuth from the television series Murder She Wrote? Without fail, toward the end of every episode, Jessica Fletcher’s curiosity led her to confront a dangerous criminal in a remote area. Unfortunately for us, the police don’t always rush in at the last minute in real life!
  • When curiosity clashes with social norms, further trouble can ensue. Anyone with a small child needs no further elaboration on this point. Curiosity can motivate the youngster to ask questions such as, “Why don’t you have any children?” or “Is that man’s belly big because he’s pregnant?”

Building Curiosity

All things considered, the benefits of curiosity far outweigh the possible risks. Cultivating this strength can lead to both personal and professional rewards. So how might we go about developing this strength? One idea comes from the work by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, one of the founders of the field of positive psychology and a pioneering researcher in the area of flow.

According to Cskikszentmihalyi, there is a direct relationship between our attentional resources and our interest in the world: Nothing is interesting to us unless we focus our attention on it. Rocks are not interesting until we begin collecting them, people in the mall are not interesting until we become curious about their lives and where they are going, and vacuum cleaners are not interesting until we need to buy a new one. According to Csikszentmihalyi, we can develop our curiosity (and fight boredom) by making a conscious effort to direct our attention to something in particular in our environment.

A Curiosity Challenge I leave you with the following Curiosity Challenge. Test Csikszentmihalyi’s theory in your own lives this week. During those times when you are feeling bored or unstimulated (e.g., while waiting in line at the grocery store), focus your attention on something that ordinarily might not engage your interest. For example, if you are at the grocery store, really notice how various customers interact with the checkout clerk. Are they making eye contact or averting their gaze? Do they make small talk? Do they offer to bag their own groceries? Notice how much effort you need to expend to focus your attention. Is it worth it? Is there a trade off between being bored (but with no demands placed on your psychic energy) and being interested?


I hope you enjoyed this newsletter! See you in two weeks when we discuss the character strength of Open-Mindedness.


Recommended Readings

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.

Lowenstein, G. (1994). The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 75-98.

Peterson, C. and Seligman, M. E. P. (Eds.). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press


AHC Program Resources

1. To experience the first Authentic Happiness Coaching Program Master Class with Marty, call 1-212-461-2698. (Call anytime, day or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

2. To hear Marty talk about his life and the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, call 1-212-461-2688. (Call anytime, day or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

3. To hear Marty's Keynote at the 2003 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium culminating in a standing ovation, call 1-212-990-7245. (Call anytime, day or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

4. To hear what our participants are saying about the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, call 1-212-461-8615. (Call anytime, date or night. Only normal long distance charges apply.)

5. To read what our participants are saying about the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, click on < pages/ahc_course_view.php?course_id=2&pg=testimonials>

6. Questions? If you have questions about the Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, please E-mail us at <> or call us at 1-301-664-6756 (call anytime, day or night.)


The Fall 2004 Authentic Happiness Coaching Program launches Thursday, October 28th, 2004. Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., will again direct this program. Openings for the Fall 2004 program remain, and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For detailed program information and to enroll, please visit our home on the web at .


Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. is the Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, the founder of the field of Positive Psychology, a Past President of the American Psychological Association (1998), and the author of 20 books including his most recent best seller, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. With Chris Peterson, he is co-author of the newly-released Character Strengths and Virtues: A Classification and Handbook. He is also the co-founder of Authentic Happiness Coaching LLC.

Ben Dean, Ph.D., co-founder of Authentic Happiness Coaching LLC, is a psychologist and coach, and the CEO of MentorCoach, a virtual university that exclusively trains mental health professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. For MentorCoach's home on the web and to subscribe to Ben's free E-newsletter, the MentorCoach™ eNewsletter, visit .


AHC Speaking Schedule

Marty will be giving a keynote address at the Dental Trade Alliance, 72nd Annual Summer Meeting on Thursday, August 5, 2004. The meeting will be held at the Hotel Del Coronado, 15000 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92188. For more detailed information about this keynote engagement please call, 800-582-2595, or click here, <>.

Ben will be speaking in Iselin, NJ (7/16/04), and Philadelphia, PA (7/18/04). For more detailed information about these speaking engagements please visit, <>.


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"Curious About Curiosity?" Vol 2 Number 13

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