Values Deep Dive | Curiosity (Part 2)
by Bets Charmelus, ArtistYear CEO
In my first post, I wrote about curiosity as one of ArtistYear’s core values – but how do we define curiosity? What form does it take in our lived experiences?
If you’re like me, you might be tempted to Google search a definition. I’ll copy & paste a portion of it here to save you a trip.
Curiosity (noun): “A desire to know or learn.”
The dictionary provides us with such a clear definition for curiosity, but it feels like it brings us no closer to what it actually is. What is the relationship between curiosity & culture? Is there a “curiosity” brain structure? Do all humans experience it? Is it only a human phenomenon?
Did you know:
Curiosity and confidence seemed to be linked. In a study done in 2009 (Kang et al.), decision-makers were least curious when they had no clue about the answer to a trivia question and when they were extremely confident. They were most curious when they had some idea about the answer but lacked confidence.
Despite its link with the most abstract human thoughts, some rudimentary forms of curiosity can be observed even in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (Kidd, Hayden, 2010). These nematodes have been observed to have strange swimming patterns, where they seem to “explore” all swimming environments regardless of energy expenditure.
When studied, curiosity drove activity in both the midbrain (implying the dopaminergic regions) and nucleus accumbens. Memory is correlated with midbrain and hippocampal activity. These findings might mean that even though curiosity comes from our own inner interest, it works in a similar way to rewards that we get from outside sources (Gruber et al., 2014).
We generally lack even the most basic integrative theory of the basis, mechanisms, and purpose of curiosity (Kidd, Hayden, 2010).
Walking the line between these scientific findings and the realm of opinion offers us a whole new space for understanding. The research suggests that curiosity is not a static trait, but a dynamic process, influenced by our environment & vice versa. For example, if confidence affects our curiosity, it also impacts our assumptions – namely the assumption that we hold all the answers. The studies suggest that our best learning happens in a state of partial knowledge. So, believing that curiosity requires both humility and a willingness to engage with the unknown helps us better serve the world around us.
In this way, curiosity can be used as a tool to counter saviorism, which too many well-intentioned individuals and non-profit organizations fall into. Saviorism says “I know the best way to do this. You need my help, I know how to help you.” Curiosity says “No matter how much I think I may already know, there’s always more I can learn.”
For ArtistYear, curiosity simply refers to a practice of asking the right questions, for the right reasons, at the right time. This is something we actively strive for in our school partnerships. Our approach to working with our school partners is rooted in this conceptual understanding of curiosity. Rather than a one-size-fits all program, we let the communities that we partner with define their needs, and we do the best we can to fill the gaps through service. This approach sounds good on paper, but will completely fall apart unless we are asking the right questions, for the right reasons, at the right time.
Bets Charmelus (he/him) is a facilitator, community advocate, and an auditory story-teller. He currently serves as ArtistYear’s Chief Executive Officer. He is passionate about finding & claiming new spaces, building strong, inter-dependent communities, and exploring the difference between questioning oneself and asking oneself questions.