Is curiosity the answer to developing smarter employees?

by L&D08 Aug 2016
Do you want to know how to make wise decisions? Are you keen on becoming smarter and healthier?

Ironically, the very act of exploring questions like these could well be the answer to obtaining the outcomes they seek.

Indeed, curiosity could be an effective way to entice employees into making smarter and healthier decisions, according to research presented at the convention of the American Psychological Association.

Moreover, it found that curiosity-based interventions are not expensive and can motivate people toward a number of positive actions.

“Our research shows that piquing people's curiosity can influence their choices by steering them away from tempting desires,” said Evan Polman, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Polman and his colleagues conducted four experiments to see how appealing to people's curiosity might impact their choices. The results found that in each case, arousing curiosity resulted in a noticeable behavior change.

In the first test, the researchers approached 200 people in a university library and gave them a choice between two fortune cookies, one plain and one dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles.

Half the participants were given no further information, while half were told that the plain cookie contained a fortune that would tell them something personal the researchers already knew about them.

Those whose curiosity was piqued (i.e., were told the plain cookie contained a fortune specifically about them) overwhelmingly chose the plain cookie by 71%.

However, when participants were told nothing, 80% opted for the chocolate-dipped cookie.

"By telling people if they choose the ordinary cookie they'll learn something about themselves via the fortune inside of it, it piqued their curiosity, and therefore they were more likely to pick the plain cookie over the more tempting chocolate-dipped option," said Polman.

For another experiment, the researchers increased the number of people who chose to view what was described as a "high-brow, intellectual video clip" by promising to reveal the secret behind a magic trick.

The researchers were also able to increase the use of the stairs in a university building nearly 10% by posting trivia questions close to elevators and promising the answers in the stairwell.

Further, they increased the purchase of fresh produce in grocery stores by 10% by placing placards with a joke on them and printing the punchline on bag closures.

Even though the researchers were not surprised that curiosity altered behavior, they were surprised at the "overall strength of the effect".

"Evidently, people really have a need for closure when something has piqued their curiosity,” said Polman.

“They want the information that fills the curiosity gap, and they will go to great lengths to get it.

"Our results suggest that using interventions based on curiosity gaps has the potential to increase participation in desired behaviors for which people often lack motivation.

"It also provides new evidence that curiosity-based interventions come at an incredibly small cost and could help steer people toward a variety of positive actions."

Rob Davidson, Director of Growth and Founder of HR service providers Davidson, previously told L&D Professional that businesses need curious leaders who are prepared to seek new trends and business models to adapt to a fast-changing environment

“If you don’t have curious leaders then how can you possibly have a leadership team that’s scanning the horizon and looking for trends and threats, and preparing the organisation accordingly?” he said.

“They seek out new learning and are prepared to challenge the status quo.”
 

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