A new study in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that intellectual curiosity — the proverbial “hungry mind” — is a predictor of academic success. While intelligence and effort are certainly important predictors of academic performance, Sophie von Stumm of the University of Edinburgh and her colleagues argue that curiosity can be thought of as the “third pillar of academic performance.” Their findings are important not only for predicting student performance, but also for how well a potential employee may do their job.
Von Stumm and her colleagues reviewed data from 200 studies in which a total of some 50,000 students rated their own intellectual curiosity and other factors. Curiosity turned out to be as important a factor as conscientiousness:
Intelligence is important to academic performance, but it’s not the whole story. Everyone knows a brilliant kid who failed school, or someone with mediocre smarts who made up for it with hard work. So psychological scientists have started looking at factors other than intelligence that make some students do better than others.
…von Stumm and her coauthors wondered if curiosity might be another important factor. “Curiosity is basically a hunger for exploration,” von Stumm says. “If you’re intellectually curious, you’ll go home, you’ll read the books. If you’re perceptually curious, you might go traveling to foreign countries and try different foods.” Both of these, she thought, could help you do better in school.
Describing herself as a “strong believer in the importance of a hungry mind for achievement,” von Stumm notes that her findings suggest that teachers need to foster curiosity in students “to make them engaged and independent learners,” and that universities should also pay attention to this trait in making admissions decisions. Employers ought also to look for people who are not only adept at learning new tasks on the job, but enjoy doing so:
“It’s easy to hire someone who has the done the job before and hence, knows how to work the role,” von Stumm says. “But it’s far more interesting to identify those people who have the greatest potential for development, i.e. the curious ones.”
As a teacher (writing this after a long teaching day), I can say that conscientious students who make every effort to pay attention in class, get assignments done, be well-prepared for the weekly grammar quiz, are definitely more than likely to do well in a class. But the students who one remembers are the ones who raise their hands to ask questions (sometimes with the phrase “I guess this isn’t really relevant but I just wanted to ask”); who hang around after class and pull out a stack of graphic novels inspired by Greek mythology that they’re dying to show me; who ask me if some anatomical term (“epiglottis”) has the same root word (gloss, “tongue”) as “glossolalia” and excited when I say yes, and then note another word (“glossary”) from the same root.
Photo taken in Bhutan by rajkumar1220
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