That’s the question parents and teachers both dread and love to hear from kids. We dread it because, well, sometimes we don’t know the answer—or we’re too lazy or harried to come up with a good one. But we usually do our best, understanding that curiosity is key to learning.
But did you know that the benefits of curiosity are not limited to the intellectual? For children and adults alike, curiosity has been linked with psychological, emotional, social, and even health benefits. Here are six of them!
1. Curiosity helps us survive.
The urge to explore and seek novelty helps us remain vigilant and gain knowledge about our constantly changing environment, which may be why our brains evolved to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals when we encounter new things.
2. Curious people are happier.
Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being. Of course, it may be, at least partially, that people who are already happier tend to be more curious, but since novelty makes us feel good (see above), it seems likely that it goes the other direction as well.
3. Curiosity boosts achievement.
Studies reveal that curiosity leads to more enjoyment and participation in school and higher academic achievement, as well as greater learning, engagement, and performance at work. It may seem like common sense, but when we are more curious about and interested in what we are doing, it’s easier to get involved, put effort in, and do well.
4. Curiosity can expand our empathy.
When we are curious about others and talk to people outside our usual social circle, we become better able to understand those with lives, experiences, and worldviews different than our own. Next time you have the chance to talk with a stranger, especially someone who may be quite dissimilar to you, try engaging with them on a personal level (respectfully, of course) and showing them that you are interested in what they have to say.
5. Curiosity helps strengthen relationships.
One study asked strangers to pose and answer personal questions, a process scientists call “reciprocal self-disclosure.” They found that people were rated as warmer and more attractive if they showed real curiosity in the exchange (while other variables like the person’s social anxiety and their levels of positive and negative emotions did not affect the partner’s feelings of attraction and closeness). This implies that demonstrating curiosity towards someone is a great way to build your closeness with them.
6. Curiosity improves healthcare.
Research suggests that when doctors are genuinely curious about their patients’ perspectives, both doctors and patients report less anger and frustration and make better decisions, ultimately increasing the effectiveness of treatment.
This article originally appeared in Greater Good Magazine.