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intrinsic power of curiosity
october 17, 2010


PREFACE (relatively long for the short discussion that follows)

I’m involved in better understanding aspects of good individuation for authentic (and exemplary) happiness (ideally: creative individuation), relative to the entire continuum of mental growth, but presently relative to child development, which is obviously the basis of adult capability for creativity and empathy (but how so is the issue).

I’m not addressing child development comprehensively, i.e., not attending to what goes on at a particular stage of child development, which is the focus of parenting guides and age-typical educational curriculum. Instead, I’m doing something deliberately ambiguous: reading child-developmental issues through a retrospective lens of adult-developmental interests (and reading psychological issues through conceptual interest), as an occasion to explore and, as a result, narratively weave (render, sketch) some conceptual and thematic relations. I wouldn’t be surprised to find no one believing I know what I’m doing; but so it goes.

Recently, I’ve sketched how attachment security is, ironically, the basis of desire for independence (disattaching, exploratory autonomy), the basis of constructive self expansion, leading to good individuation because belonging instills trust in surrounds that thereby reliably seem to welcome exploration for those who have the confidence to explore. That discussion implicitly relates to the clinically-well-appreciated “separation-individuation” dynamic of early self development (which I explored in much detail during the early-to-mid 1990s—before there was a public Internet; both linked references here go way back: 1975 and 1985 respectively), sketched here (in my short story about attachment and belonging/bonding) in broad-stroke terms of general child development.


Now, I want to briefly dwell with (focus on) our “innately” human interest in self expansion, which originates from our intrinsic curiosity. (Presently, interest and curiosity are considered as synonyms by the researchers I’m going to quote; so, I’m wanting to dwell with an innate interest in intrinsic interest.) Curiosity is “the core of intrinsically motivated action” [ref.2: 367], which is easy to attribute to healthy infants and children. But such intrinsic motivation is generally vital to self expansion, inquiry, creativity, and self-directed remedial change in any life span (because intrinsic motivation is vital to change, and curiosity about... is primarily important for sustained, effective learning). Let me emphasize this obviousness of the value of curiosity (obvious, though, ironically, so many children, teens, and adults are no longer curious!) with an extended quotation from the same researchers:

“When we are curious, we are doing things for their own sake....When curious, people ask questions, manipulate interesting objects, read deeply, examine interesting images, and persist on challenging tasks...[C]uriosity’s immediate function is to learn, explore, and immerse oneself in the interesting event” [ref.2: 368]. In the long run, curiosity/interest is self-expansive of autonomy, relatedness, and capability: “...building knowledge and competence. Exploring new events fosters learning new things, meeting new people, and developing new skills. Curiosity can be defined as the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore novel, challenging, and uncertain events....exploratory striving...and mindful immersion....[being] fully aware and receptive to whatever exists and might happen in the present moment....focusing on the novelty and challenge each moment has to offer” [ibid.]—vital also to living raptly. “Curiosity motivates people to act and think in new ways and investigate, be immersed, and learn about whatever is the immediate interesting target of their attention” [ibid.] The potential individual value of parental/educational cultivating of curiosity is inestimable, potentially profound in importance for a life—and culturally. Again, this is obvious. Yet, the world is awash in timid conformance (and sloth).

For the baby, the child, and onward, curiosity is the origin—the intrinsic motivation—of durable learning, yet enactive absorption (a Flow state) “increases intrinsic motivation [my emph.] Flow states, therefore, may lead to long-term well-being through promoting positive resources—such as nurturing talents, cultivating interest, and honing skills. These resources may lead to an upward spiral[, i.e.: fulfillment fueling motivation for greater fulfillment].... We would therefore expect that individuals who [can easily] endorse[, i.e., give way to or give in to] frequently entering flow are more productive and achieve higher levels of success” [ref.16: 3].

Absorption in one’s time not only is a pleasure of Flow, but also builds on itself. More than engaging (which presumes an evident self-other difference) absorption enFlows, if you will. Time warps as enchantment becomes the child, embodied by a world—worlded—later in life exemplified becoming “lost” in reading or making something. I like a notion of habitation efficacy due to loving engagement, which deepens novelty into furthering self expansion.

But that’s just me. A fascinating general kind of point from empirical research is that
“...3-year-old children with greater curiosity and exploratory tendencies demonstrate greater intelligence at age 11” [ref.2: 370].

This is a flourishing of intrinsic rewards, not extrinsic. Research overwhelmingly proves that extrinsic rewards (toys, food, money) do not lead to sustained motivation. I want to dwell with this profoundly important fact later (in terms of specific research).

  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis