How curiosity can be a curse, according to science

davanti counselling pandora's box

Curiosity can open a Pandora’s Box of difficulties. (copyright Christos Georghiou).

The relentless human desire to know – to satisfy curiosity at all costs – can be more of a curse than a blessing, according to scientists. Whether it’s surreptitiously checking your partner’s phone for signs of infidelity, avidly reading celebrity gossip mags, or hunting people down on social media, too much curiosity can be like opening Pandora’s Box: the urge to do it can outweigh any benefits you might get from knowing, and it can seriously affect your happiness and wellbeing.

Researchers from the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, and the Wisconsin School of Business have discovered The Pandora Effect: The power and peril of curiosity, published in Psychological Science. They explored what they call the ‘perverse’ side of curiosity to show that it can cause more harm than it’s worth.

The scientists carried out four experiments that exposed people to electric shocks with no apparent benefits, to prove a point that people were driven by “humans’ deep-seated desire to resolve uncertainty, regardless of the harm it may bring”. One experiment involved clicking colour-coded pens, some of which had electric shocks and some didn’t. Where there was uncertainty (not clear which colour pens had batteries) people clicked more of the pens.

The researchers said: “The study suggests that humans possess an inherent desire, independent of consequentialist considerations, to resolve uncertainty; when facing something uncertain and feeling curious, they will act to resolve the uncertainty even if they expect negative consequences. Just as curiosity drove Pandora to open the box despite being warned of its pernicious contents, curiosity can lure humans—like you and me—to seek information with predictably ominous consequences.”

Something to bear in mind before you start secretly stalking your ex on social media. Sometimes, for your own happiness, it may be better just not to know.

Related articles:

Why uncertainty creates the worst kind of stress

Biggest source of employee stress is now knowing what bosses want

Pick a one-word theme for a New Year’s resolution you really can keep

A list of resolutions can be daunting and unachievable. Why not pick a more manageable 'theme of the year' instead? (pic:

A list of resolutions can be daunting and unachievable. Why not pick a more manageable ‘theme of the year’ instead? (pic:

I believe less is more when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. There’s nothing more demoralising than making a 10-strong list on 1st January promising yourself ways you’re going to be a better person, only to find that seven have already slipped out of possibility a week later. The fizz of optimism can disappear faster from your list than a warm glass of last night’s Champagne, and you may give yourself a hard time for ‘failing’.

In fact, fear of failing is one of the two main reasons why people don’t make resolutions. (The other reason is that they don’t believe in them, according to an Australian study). And people fail to stick at them because other things get in the way, they lose focus, or the resolution wasn’t that important in the first place.

A more achievable way of making positive change in your life is to have a goal that is realistic. One way of doing that, I’ve found, is to pick a theme for the year.  (more…)