Curiosity is the basic desire for understanding. Satisfaction of this desire produces a feeling of wonder, whereas frustration produces boredom or confusion.

Some experts confuse exploratory and intellectual curiosity. ´They claim that because babies explore their environments, everybody is born naturally curious. Young children start school so eager to learn they are wide eyed and thrilled. Rather than nurture this natural curiosity, say some experts, teachers unwittingly turn the fun of learning into a rat race for good grades and academic awards. In no time at all, schools extinguish the natural curiosity of their students. The students now hate school and lack motivation.

This myth is right on two counts: Babies enjoy exploring their environments, and many middle and high school students dislike school. The error is in assuming that the exploratory behavior of babies has something to do with the intellectual behavior of adolescents. I am not sure that it does.

The theory of 16 basic desires distinguishes between the need for cognition, which falls under the basic desire for curiosity, and the desire to explore one’s environment, which as adventure falls under the basic desire for tranquility. Consider the people you know who are explorers. Notice that only some of them are also thinkers. Now consider the people you know who are thinkers. Notice that only some of them are also explorers. Although some social psychologists have assumed that exploring (e.g., babies roaming environments) and thinking (e.g., students learning math) are commonly motivated by a need for stimulus novelty, the fact that thinkers aren’t necessarily explorers and vice versa suggests otherwise.

Daniel Boone was a legendary eighteenth century explorer who has been described by his biographer, John Filson (2010), as a “curious” man because Boone loved to explore new places. Yet Boone also hated school and, thus, probably had a low need for intellectual understanding. In contrast, Issac Newton was among the most influential intellectuals ever. He had a thirst for knowledge even as a young boy. Although Newton was always thinking, he wasn’t much for exploring. He spent many months more or less alone in his Cambridge University dormitory working on exciting new mathematical ideas.

Explorers like Boone aren’t necessarily intellectuals like Newton, and intellectuals like Newton aren’t necessarily explorers like Boone. We should not assume that exploratory and intellectual behavior is motivated by a common curiosity.

Instead the theory of 16 basic desires recognizes two kinds of curiosity, called exploratory and intellectual. Exploratory curiosity is the result of attraction of novel stimuli, while intellectual curiosity is about ideas and the need for cognition. The exploratory behavior of babies does not imply that high school students were born with a natural curiosity for intellectual learning.

Although exploratory and intellectual curiosities are two different motives, coincidentally some people enjoy both exploring and thinking. John Glenn, the first man to walk on the moon, enjoyed science. Edmund Hillary, the first man to explore the peak of Mount Everest, wrote a number of books. The mythical men of the starship Enterprise were scientists: Known throughout the universe as a great thinker, Spock boldly went where no man had gone before.

In conclusion, the basic desire for curiosity is about intellectual understanding and does not including exploring, which falls under weak basic desires for acceptance and tranquility.

People with a STRONG BASIC DESIRE FOR CURIOSITY embrace intellectual pursuits such as thinking, reading, writing, and conversing.  Their ideas and theories mean a great deal to them. They show a wide range of intellectual interests even though they may focus on a particular area of expertise. Personality traits that may describe them include contemplative, deep thinker, inquisitive, intellectual, reflective, and thoughtful.

People with a WEAK BASIC DESIRE FOR CURIOSITY like to keep their intellectual activity to a minimum. They become easily frustrated when they try to think. They rarely read books, debate ideas, or enjoy intellectual conversations. They may have little patience with intellectual matters and even may view intellectuals in a negative light. They may like to speak with actions rather than words. As former football great Johnny Unitas put it, “Talk is cheap – let’s do our talking on the field.” Personality traits that may describe them include action-oriented, nonintellectual, and practical.

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