The Hungry Mind
By Neira Ardaneshwari (2014 / 1406540263)
In this age of information and technology, any kind of knowledge can be obtained at your fingertips. With the touch of a couple buttons, everyone has the ability to gain access to the world’s largest — albeit at times dubious — information base: the internet. What’s evidently unfortunate to me is that most people choose to use this privilege to endlessly scroll through insubstantial content, but not to learn more about this universe they’re capitalizing on.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I too use the internet to go through seemingly useless content. I too spend a little too much time taking silly quizzes on Buzzfeed (My personal favorite: Which Disney princess are you?) . Using the internet for such purposes is only fitting, since the internet also exists as means of experiencing amusement. What I’m disheartened about is the fact that most people ( most, not all ) seem to use the internet solely for these purposes. When presented with the opportunity to learn something new, they rebuff. Psychologists would say that these people lack what we call e pistemic, or intellectual, curiosity.
In modern psychological literature, a plethora of theoretical perspectives have tried to conceptualize what epistemic/intellectual curiosity (will simply be referred to as curiosity from this point on) means, but they all basically pinpoint to this definition: the desire to engage in cognitively demanding tasks, to seek opportunities for intellectual engagement, and to gain facts and knowledge (von Stumm, Hell, & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2011). Having curiosity obviously has benefits. An self-evident one is its impact on your knowledge base (or in legit cognitive psychology terms: your semantic memory). Constantly seeking new information makes you a more knowledgeable, well-read, scholarly person in general.
Another practical benefit is what it does for your grades. Numerous studies have demonstrated that those with high curiosity tend to perform better academically (von Stumm, Hell, & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2011; Komarraju, et al., 2011). This may be due to the fact that having curiosity facilitates cognitive development (Sternberg, 1994; Tamdogon, 2006).
Not a student anymore? Consider Mussel’s (2013) study. The study reported that those high in curiosity tend to do better at their jobs. Most, if not all, quality jobs nowadays require employees to be good problem-solvers and innovators that are competent in dealing with complex and uncertain situations. Requirements as such necessitate employees to have the drive to learn and engage in various cognitive tasks; the things that curious individuals continually partake in.
Now, I’m perfectly aware that some people just have it wired in their personality to love learning new things and enjoy challenging their cognitive systems. Does that mean those that aren’t as lucky cannot become curious individuals? Of course not! One way that we can become more curious is through habitually performing behaviors typically expressed by individuals high in curiosity , such as seeking new knowledge and information. Those who want to become as intellectually curious then will greatly benefit from doing such activities.
I know what you’re thinking. These so-called “intellectually engaging activities” may sound like such a chore. But trust me when I say this: if you persevere, you will eventually discover the joy they can bring you. Gordon Allport, a 20th century personality psychologist, once came up with a concept that perfectly describes this phenomenon — he called it functional autonomy. Allport used the concept to explain behaviors that have become intrinsically rewarding — that is, behaviors that bring people pleasure just because of the mere act of engaging in that behavior.
Right now, you may be partaking in those intellectually engaging activities because of the benefits I have outlined earlier — expanding your knowledge base and exercising your cognitive systems for academic and vocational purposes. That means this behavior is still extrinsically rewarding, because it is motivated by rewards that come from external sources. But over time, you will be motivated not because of the external rewards, but because you genuinely enjoy and delight in these intellectually engaging activities. In Allport’s terms, these activities will become functionally autonomous.
As an individual who has experienced both the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of having a curious mind, I can tell you that without a doubt, the contentment that I feel when learning something new greatly surpasses the external results that I gain—even though the external rewards are splendid, too. Having curiosity means that I get to be at the forefront of scientific discovery. I get to witness the mysteries of this wondrous universe becoming unraveled. I get to admire both its elegance and enigma. I get to gradually find answers to questions I’ve been asking for years — questions that scholars before modern science and technology never had a clue about. I get to delve into the minds of philosophers and learn their remarkable — sometimes downright disturbing and even hilarious (I’m looking at you, Freud) — perspectives on humanity. Most of all, I gain an understanding, and therefore an appreciation, of the universe, of life, and of human consciousness.
So I urge you to have a mind that is continually hungry for new knowledge. It doesn’t need to be quantum physics, microbiology, or neuropsychology — it can be anything at all that challenges and engages your cognitive systems.
I close this piece with a quote that I believe perfectly captures the essence of having a hungry mind:
“Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
— Albert Einstein
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Sternberg, R. J. (1994). Answering questions and questioning answers.
Tamdogon, O. G. (2006). Creativity in education: Clearness in perception, vigorousness in
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von Stumm, S., Hell, B., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). The Hungry Mind: Intellectual
Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance. Perspectives on Psychological
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