With all that’s been written about the motivational forces behind decision making, I’ve read very little that addresses one of the more foundational drivers of action in our lives: curiosity.
This came to my attention recently, walking down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, when I spotted a QR code sitting in a window. The code had nothing near it — no copy, labels, descriptions — nothing. All I knew was that it had been posted by the department store in which it was housed.
“Interesting,” I thought, and kept on walking.
But walking away wasn’t easy. It felt as if there was a lasso around my ankles dragging me back to the code in order to find out what it offered.
I was curious.
So after a few steps, I turned around, went back, and scanned it. The sense of relief that came after satisfying my curiosity was massive.
A Strong Emotion
The point I’m trying to make has nothing at all to do with QR codes. It has everything to do with the important role that curiosity plays in our everyday decision making.
If something appears important and worthy of attention, but little information is provided about it, we feel an intellectual void that needs to be filled and satiated.
Perhaps it’s a survival mechanism of sorts, or an innate desire for spontaneity in our lives.
And curiosity is everywhere. Why do traffic jams occur on one side of the highway when there’s an accident on the other side? Why do we “surf” the web, jumping aimlessly from link to link? Why do we sample gelato flavors and different flavors of olives (my current obsession)? Why do we look over our shoulder when we hear a loud voice? Because we’re curious.
With curiosity in hand, we increase the possibility that we’ll stumble onto something new and exciting.
Oh, The Irony
Despite all of this, we’re often taught to make our copy, content and user experience as clear and accessible as possible to those who consume and use them. But the curiosity effect goes against that entire notion: it involves less clarity and less information.
It doesn’t necessarily make things less transparent — it just puts things behind an easily-smashable, foggy pane of glass. It reduces communication to a simple clue or symbol, and leaves us wanting more. It makes things fun.
And for an emotion as victimized as this one (“curiosity killed the cat” and the infamous “why?” stage in children), curiosity certainly plays an enormous role in our day-to-day actions. Perhaps it’s time we gave it the attention it deserves.
Share your thoughts in the comments below.