What's So Special About Curiosity?


When Warren Buffett and Bill Gates first met in 1991, or so the story goes, Gates’ father asked each of them to name their most important trait. The answer was simple: Curiosity. More than 15 years later, during a talk at Columbia University, Buffett explained that nothing had changed. “We both certainly share a curiosity about the world,” he said.


Other legendary leaders, from Albert Einstein to Eleanor Roosevelt to Walt Disney have all touted the importance of being curious. “I have no special talents,” Einstein famously said. “I am only passionately curious.”


Research bears out the idea that curiosity has the power to improve lives and propel success. Studies show that curious people have stronger relationships and greater life satisfaction, and that curiosity can even inspire people to make better life choices, like eating healthier or exercising more. Take one study, in which subjects were presented with two fortune cookies: one dipped in chocolate and sprinkles, the other plain. “Participants whose curiosity was piqued (i.e., were told the plain cookie contained a fortune specifically about them) overwhelmingly chose the plain cookie by 71 percent,” the study authors write. “In contrast, when participants were told nothing, 80 percent chose the chocolate-dipped cookie.”


Of course, that study has greater implications than just calorie consumption. Once someone’s curiosity is piqued, they’re more likely to do what’s necessary to satisfy that curiosity, like investing their time into reading an article, watching a video, or even learning about a brand. “People really have a need for closure when something has piqued their curiosity,” Evan Polman, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who co-authored the fortune cookie study, said in a press release. “They want the information that fills the curiosity gap, and they will go to great lengths to get it.”

And—bonus!—once a person is curious, not only are they more likely to seek out information, but their brains are more prepared to learn. As a study in the journal Neuron explains, “states of high curiosity enhance not only learning of interesting information, but also learning of incidental material.” Translation? The more curious you are about a topic, the easier it will be for you to learn something new about that topic, sure, but about other topics too. As Scientific American explains, “Piquing curiosity could...help educators, advertisers and storytellers find ways to help students or audiences better retain messages.”