New research in psychology reveals the dark side of curiosity

Desire for knowledge is generally associated with positive outcomes. But new research suggests that curiosity has a darker counterpart. Research shows that a psychological concept called curiosity is associated with memory errors, intellectual confusion, and reduced openness to new information that contradicts a person’s current beliefs.

emerging new research Journal of Research in Personalitymakes a difference be interested in interest and separation be interested in. Curiosity refers to the general motivation to learn new things and the joy of exploration, while disengagement interest refers to the desire to reduce unpleasant feelings associated with uncertainty.

“When people think about interest, I don’t think they necessarily make that distinction. But given the focus, I think a lot of people will be able to report and find out which of the two is stronger,” explained study author Claire Marie Zedelius, research manager at YouGov’s research group.

“That difference is not what this study found,” Zedelius noted. “Others have done it before us. Therefore, this research is only the starting point.”

In a series of four studies involving a total of more than 2,000 participants, researchers found that people with a higher preoccupation with deprivation scored lower on a measure of intellectual humility. In other words, people who agree with statements like “I spend hours on the same problem because I just can’t rest without knowing the answer” feel like it’s a personal attack when someone challenges my most important beliefs. High levels of interest, on the other hand, were associated with the opposite pattern of results.

“What is interesting and novel about our study is that the two types of interest are associated with very different outcomes. Differences in people’s general knowledge, differences in the way people process information, and surprising differences in the mistakes people make with information,” Zedelius told PsyPost.

“What we know about the nature of curiosity, I think, confirms the intuition that many people have: that curiosity is a very desirable quality. People who are more curious (compared to those who are less curious) have more general knowledge (trivia knowledge) and are more accurate in distinguishing previously seen information from new information. They are also more intellectually humble, meaning they understand that their views may be wrong. All good things.”

“What we know about the interest in decoupling is surprising and not very rosy,” Zedelius continued. “Interested people do not have general knowledge. And they make these interesting mistakes — “false signals” — on a variety of tasks: In a task similar to a typical general knowledge test, they claim to be familiar with invented concepts. Not because they claim to know everything in the test, but because they confuse real and fake concepts. Similarly, in a recognition memory task, they cannot accurately distinguish between previously seen information and new information. Their mistake is that they believe that what they have seen before is actually new.

To test whether the negative effects of deprivation bias were the result of “overexposure to any and all information,” Zedelius and colleagues examined the perception of pseudo-deep mockery in two studies. Accepting pseudo-profound nonsense refers to the tendency to mistake nonsensical sentences (eg, “whole quiet infinite phenomena”) for profound statements.

Additionally, in a fourth and final study, participants were presented with a series of true and false news stories presented in the style of social media posts. After reading each headline, they were asked to rate how likely the headline was to be true and how likely they were to share the news.

“The results are consistent with our thinking,” Zedelius told PsyPost. “Interested people are more likely to see meaning in meaningless sentences, and they’re more likely to see blatant misinformation (including about politics, COVID-19 vaccines, as well as other less polarizing topics).”

“They are not completely gullible. In an absolute sense, they are not convinced that the false information we present is true, but they may be somewhat convinced. They are actually open to having fun. They may also say that they will share with others.”

However, the researchers were surprised to find that cognitive representation did not appear to mediate the relationship between disengagement interest and false news belief. A lack of cognitive reflection, characterized by a tendency to “go with your gut” rather than think critically, has been linked to the spread of misinformation in the past.

“Disinformation revelations are certainly particularly timely,” Zedelius said. “It’s still a bit of a mystery, which makes people vulnerable to believing and sharing false information. We already know a lot about this from other studies, but our research shows that there are also some overlooked factors. Other studies have shown that ideology and a lack of critical thinking make people more open to believing misinformation. I think most people will find this very intuitive, perhaps self-evident.”

“But we found that curiosity is a completely different path to becoming a victim of disinformation. This is because very detached curious people are not bad at critical thinking and they do not share a particular ideology. There is another reason why they believe false information. The reason for this – we hypothesize – is a genuine but highly excessive openness to information.”

Zedeliy and his colleagues also demonstrated that increased enjoyment after learning new information about a work of art was related to interest rather than interest.

“We developed a new visual art task where we exposed people to the same image over and over again,” he explained. “It gets boring quickly. And then we tell them new things about the context, the meaning, and how the image came about. It suddenly makes the image interesting again. But it’s not the same for everyone.”

“We’ve seen an unexpected increase in the enjoyment of this new contextual information by people with high interest. I think these people can experiment, especially in a teaching context. Finding new angles on old information to capture people’s interest. It’s good to know that some people are more sensitive to this than others.’

Previous research has shown that interest and separation interest are separate constructs. However, they are also related, which is not surprising—both types of curiosity share a desire for knowledge as a core characteristic.

“So a lot of people are very interested in disconnection, and may also be relatively interested,” Zedelius explained. “We’ve shown statistically that this is not a problem for our findings – some of this is in the paper, other parts were cut out during the review process.”

“So if someone were to say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m really exactly what you’d describe as a curious person—I have to finish every book I start, even the ones I don’t like, and if I don’t know the answer to the knowledge question, I’ll let it go. can’t – but I’m very humble and never share wrong information” – then one reason for this is that the person may also be very interested and have this protective effect”.

“Inquisitive but not perceptive: Deprivation interest is associated with overexposure to inaccurate information,” Claire M. Zedelius, Madeleine E. Gross and Jonathan W. Written by Squier.

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