Why We Need to Encourage Curiosity In Students

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.

The hardest part of studying ancient Greek and Latin is not memorizing vocabulary words and grammatical forms but translating, which requires not only knowing the rules but how to apply the rules. Even students who routinely do all their homework can be baffled by a sentence in ancient Greek or Latin and go the safe route, just writing down the meanings of some words rather than risking a translation the might be wrong. But it’s always exciting to see that a student has taken a bit of a dare and written down something that may not be 100 percent correct, but shows their willingness to grapple with the ancient Greek and Latin.

That’s my Greek and Latin classes. But consider a visionary like Steve Jobs: The iPhone, iPod, iTunes, didn’t come into being under someone who just did the homework assignments, but someone who wondered, what if we try this, and tweak this, and change this…

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Emma S.
Emma S.3 years ago

Curiosity should be fostered in everyone!

Jeanette B.
Jeanette B.4 years ago

Einstein notion that imagination is more important than knowledge; is certain akin to curiosity theory.

Julija S.
Julija S.4 years ago


Jane Barton
Jane Barton4 years ago

When I was a kid I learned the basics, reading, writing and arithmatic. From what I hear, now
schools are just baby sitters. When I was young teachers didn't stifle curiousity. Are they
doing that now? Or have they just "dumbed down" the educational system? All I know is,
when I came to California the educational system was tops, now it's close to the bottom.
Is this article trying to blame the teachers for this? I don't know about other people but I was
born with "curiosity", a burning desire to question everything. I think it might be an inborn
quality that you can't "instill" into people. It always made me feel like I wanted to "overcome"
adversity. I notice that people who aren't like that tend to cave under pressure and they become drug addicts and lazy bums. Pressure always made me try harder. I'm curious if there are any statistics on whether you are born with "curiosity" or it can be made.

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy4 years ago

But we also need schools who not only allow such opportunities but insist on them.

Charles G.
Rilde WildeThang4 years ago

So they can find new and amazing ways to let venture capitalists make miraculous profits on their ideas or there ideas weaponized otherwise have their ideas replaced with mind controlling patriotic propaganda or else... anyone found to have ideas of their own will be watched very carefully as a danger to society however...

Rita White
Rita White4 years ago

curiosity will breed future scientists, engineers, doctors, etc.

Joe Shults
Joe Shults4 years ago

Curiosity is very good for anyone, finding the answer(s) is even better.

Michael N.
Michael Novick4 years ago

"But consider a visionary like Steve Jobs: The iPhone, iPod, iTunes, didn’t come into being under someone who just did the homework assignments, but someone who wondered, what if we try this, and tweak this, and change this…": Please dont pool Steve Jobs in as a Visionary. The only thing he invisioned was how to market products that competitors were requesting Patents for. Apple has a LONG history of Patent Blocking.


On the topic though, A hungry mind fills innovation and success. A student just pushing for grades my have a goal, but that is easily obtained. While a Goal for Understanding and learning, Can NEVER be completed. If it is it takes a life time, and the success is immeasurable.

Albert Einstein, Wilbur & Orville Wright, Thomas Edison, Charles Fritts, Charles F. Brush and even Ken Thompson, the Creator of Unix. The True Genius that made "Apple" possible(Research "BSD Operating Systems" and you can understand why apple is not a Innovator). The people who pointed out "What if *that* were to occur". They challenged the base of understanding, they questioned all the possibility's and Tried there best to understand the impossible.

Because of that, its made this world just the little bit more Amazing. They define Success.

Deborah L.
Deborah Lashever4 years ago

Curiosity and the ability to find the info you need is all you need to be highly educated. Especially in this day and age where any info is at our fingertips, the forced rote memorization of a myriad of factoids does nothing. Testing how many of these teeny factoids will fit into your head to be dredged out means less than nothing. The only thing it shows is how willing you are to follow the status quo, and note, these are the people that get good grades and into "good" colleges and careers. They are rewarded for their conformity. But look what world we end up with then. We are feeling the effects now.

This is not an accident. The US school system was consciously designed to kill curiosity and inventiveness. Carnegie, Rockefeller, Dewey, Darwin, etc... worked together to create a compulsary school system based on the Prussian system of scientifically dumbing children down so they could be used for factory workers and so they would not cause the problems that creative, inventive people create. (disturbance in the classroom, and later in society by asking too many questions) Read John Taylor Gatto's iconic book, "Dumbing us Down." It is the history of the school system in the US. It will show you why we are failing so badly.

Aren't you curious to find out the truth?