Saturday, October 19, 2019

Week 9 Mindset: Willingham on Curiosity

I haven't been doing mindset posts this semester, but I saw an article at the New York Times today which got my attention: Why Aren’t We Curious About the Things We Want to Be Curious About? by Daniel Willingham.

I am really interested in the phenomenon of "curiosity," so I was curious (!) to read this article. His theme is "channeling curiosity," in the sense that you cannot force yourself to be curious, but you can create situations where that curiosity is more, or less, productive.

He starts with an evolutionary take on how curiosity could be helpful to hunter-gatherers as they learned about their environments: "a forager that occasionally skipped a reliable feeding ground to explore might find an even better place to eat."

And so today: "Humans, too, will forgo a known payoff to investigate the unknown." A preference for novelty, even at the cost of an external reward. We get internal rewards instead: "evolution has left us with a brain that can reward itself; satisfying curiosity feels pleasurable, so you explore the environment even when you don’t expect any concrete payoff."

Plus, curiosity "amplifies learning," somehow priming us for learning that lasts, heightening memory, and also connecting with existing knowleged: "We’re maximally curious when we sense that the environment offers new information in the right proportion to complement what we already know."

Back to the hunter-gatherers: Willingham recommends that we pursue our curiosity in what are likely to be good "foraging grounds." Don't go to front pages of click-bait sites. Instead, spend time where you'll find worthwhile content: JSTOR Daily, Arts & Letters Daily or ScienceDaily.

And check out the authors, he says... which does work: I was pretty sure I would get something out of this article when I saw Willingham was the author (I don't always agree with him, but I am interested in the things he is interested in).

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