Curiosity is the engine of intellectual achievement. – Annie Murphy Paul
George Loewenstein, author of The Psychology of Curiosity, wrote that curiosity arises “when attention becomes focused on a gap in one’s knowledge. Such information gaps produce the feeling of deprivation labeled curiosity. The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.”
Curiosity then, is a powerful feeling that pushes us to find the information we need to fill the gap in our knowledge.
Cognitive scientist and author Daniel Willingham suggests that in order to fill those gaps, we start by asking questions. In his book Why Don’t Students Like School?, Willingham notes that oftentimes teachers are “so eager to get to the answer that they do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.”
Knowing the question before you get the answer allows your mind to open as you consider other possibilities. It’s too easy to accept an answer when you have no idea what in fact you’re getting an answer to. While questions stimulate curiosity, answers stifle it.
Though Willingham’s book is obviously directed at the educational system, I think it relates perfectly to how the media acts today.
Our brains get pleasure from solving problems not just simply knowing the answer. Even if we’re not directly told the answer, too many “hints” will cause us to lose the sense that we have solved it ourselves.
The media gives us answers. I’m sure you’re thinking “that’s their job”, but I disagree; to some extent, anyway. They, in all their glory and corporate money, tell us how to feel about a certain situation or event by giving us one side of the story, theirs.
Very rarely (if it all) do they show us both hands and facilitate our decision making process, our brain’s ultimate desire.
On the other hand, while our brains do get pleasure from solving problems (i.e., making our own decisions), we get little to no pleasure if we find the problem too difficult to solve.
Yes, we all have the resources today to find out what the liberals are saying or see where the republicans stand, to find the details that matter to the story, and to answer any question we have but sometimes, that is the equivalent to finding a needle in a virtual haystack.
For events as in-depth and important as the Iran Nuclear Talks, the NSA controversy, Obamacare, etc. it is simply too hard for people who are trying to learn to sort through the constant barrage of noise in order to connect the dots.
In his book Willingham notes “curiosity prompts us to explore new ideas and problems. But when we do this exploration, we quickly evaluate how much mental work it will take to solve the problem. If it’s too much or too little work, we stop working on the problem if we can.”
If we want a more informed public (or generation re: Millennials) we need to inform them better – not just give them their viewpoint.