We’ve all seen the job postings looking for candidates with “a passion for learning,” “insatiable curiosity,” “creative thought processes” or “intellectual curiosity.” In fact, a simple web search will bring up thousands of listings mentioning “curiosity.” Yet, the scientific research addressing the relationship between curiosity and creative problem solving has been, so far, lacking.
Several scientists noticed this too and decided to try to tackle it by studying the relationship between curiosity and effective creative problem solving. “Outside the box: Epistemic curiosity as a predictor of creative problem solving and creative performance,” was published in 2016 in Personality and Individual Differences by Dr. Jay Hardy, an assistant professor at Oregon State University and his coauthors, Alisha Ness of the University of Oklahoma and Jensen Mecca of Shaker Consulting Group.
Hardy explains the idea for the article originated while he was in graduate school at the University of Oklahoma. “The more I got into the research, the more I realized how curiosity actually translates into people performing better on creative tasks.”
First, Hardy drew on the scant research on curiosity, predominantly that of Daniel Berlin from the late 1960s. “Oftentimes curiosity is used as a blanket term but there are actually several sub-components of it that operate very differently,“ he explains. The two kinds of curiosity that Berlin defined and Hardy uses are known as “specific” and “diversive.”
Specific curiosity is the targeted desire to reduce uncertainty about something in particular, like when you’re up at night wondering about how to fix one particular thing. Diversive curiosity refers to the stereotypical, unfocused kind of curiosity about everything, an openness to exploring unfamiliar topics. As Hardy puts it, “People see it as flippant and distractible, as an immature form of curiosity... like a teenager flipping through channels.”