Not to worry, she may just be experiencing curiosity…

Not to worry, she may just be experiencing curiosity…

Ms Ruth Jans, Mackay Head of House

Throughout history, curiosity has not always enjoyed its current status as a valued quality. Although Aristotle attributed it as one of the most important characteristics of humanity, writing that ‘All men by nature desire to know’ (Ross, 2012), throughout the Medieval era, a sense of suspicion prevailed about this concept. It was considered by many that curiosity was a sign of ignorance or of an unhealthy fascination with inappropriate knowledge, and therefore a sin. It wasn’t until the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries that philosophers began to view curiosity as ‘associated with acquisitiveness, an insatiable but laudable desire for knowledge’ (Brown, 2006, p143) and therefore elevate it out of sin and back into virtue.

‘Curiosity may be defined as a desire to know, to see, or to experience, that motivates exploratory behavior directed towards the acquisition of new information….and (therefore) reward’ (Litman, 2005, p793).

An education at Brisbane Girls Grammar can never be described as boring, or one which quashes curiosity or creativity. While the curriculum is rigorous, the teachers are inspiring, and at times the pace can feel exhausting, the school environment with its amazing human and material resources is most definitely stimulating. Leaving aside the long list of sporting and musical groups, the vast choice of cultural, academic and interest clubs are designed to create and inspire the curious mind. Opportunities such as the Philosopher’s Café, Art Café, art walks and workshops, Astronomy Club, Libellum society, Athene Club, Antipodeans, international study tours, cultural arts tour to New York, Opti-MINDS, da Vinci Decathlon, and debating, to name a few, provide our community with rich and stimulating experiences. In addition, many of these cafes and clubs also provide parents and teachers with a chance to model curiosity to our girls, presenting them with an example of the benefits of nurturing a curious mind and life-long learning.

The role of curiosity in learning should not be underestimated, as without it learning is simply reactive, somewhat like the ‘sponge’ theory of students waiting to be filled with knowledge and understanding. Learning led by curiosity, however, is proactive, where students actively ‘probe (their) environment, to understand it better, and to anticipate changes’ (Greenberg, 1999).  According to Kashdan and Fincham (2004), ‘curiosity accounts for about ten per cent of the variance in achievement and performance outcomes’.  Simply put, a curious student will be more motivated to explore and investigate, and will therefore potentially achieve higher results than her less curious peers. Day represents curiosity as a curvilinear graph depicting the various levels of arousal and efficiency in a learner (Day, 1982, p19).  Below the optimal level the individual lacks interest and motivation, at its height is the state of curiosity, and beyond is a zone of anxiety ‘resulting in behaviours including defensiveness, disinterest, avoidance and inefficiency’ (Armone, 2012, p1).

The theoretical model of curiosity developed by Litman and Jimerson suggests that curiosity is experienced in two forms: CFD – Curiosity as a Feeling of Deprivation (a gap in one’s knowledge) and CFI – Curiosity as a Feeling of Interest, and that both forms can be rewarding (2005, p799). They propose that ‘curiosity can be aroused when individuals feel as though they are deprived of information and wish to reduce or eliminate their ignorance, as well as when they do not feel particularly deficient of information, but would nevertheless enjoy learning something new.’ What intrigues me the most about the implications of CFD and CFI for the education system is that the associated emotions attributed to CFI are often positive in nature, such as interest and joy, whereas the emotions connected with CFD can be negative, such as tension, frustration and uncertainty. It is also important to note that their research proposes that the learning that occurs as a result of CFD is far more ‘substantive, meaningful and capable of increasing subjective feelings of competence’ than the learning that is inspired from CFI.

The very nature of learning pushes students out of their comfort zones and into learning zones and it is in these learning zones that students can feel frustrated and uncertain –the traits attributed to CFD. Schools, such as BGGS, who continue to ‘lift the bar higher’ thereby creating greater opportunities for excellent scholarship, tend to generate environments which foster CFD. Every time a new unit is started and the students learn about the assessment requirements, they are conscious of what they don’t know and are automatically motivated to fill these gaps through class work, homework, research, study and practice. If students can understand that these negative feelings are a natural part of CFD – a more intense experience of curiosity and one that leads to better scholarship than CFI – then hopefully they will feel empowered and embrace this experience rather than slip into the zone of anxiety, at which point they become less efficient learners.

This is why subjects like Philosophy of Learning are so important in establishing a cognitive awareness in students so that they can recognise the difference between the uncomfortable state of CFD and the angst ridden state of the zone of anxiety. It is equally important that parents are able to distinguish between the two as it can be upsetting to see one’s child experiencing frustration and anxiety as a result of challenging homework or assessment tasks. The key is to determine whether your daughter is experiencing the feelings that are part of CFD which can end up motivating them to develop the necessary knowledge/skills to complete the task. The next step is to reassure them that what they are feeling is normal, and that although they may find things difficult now, they will end up developing competency in this skill or an understanding of the concepts. However, if they have gone beyond the state of curiosity and in their anxiety have lost confidence in their ability to learn and improve, then the student must be encouraged to approach their teacher and Head of House as soon as possible in order to make the most of the opportunities provided by the school for help and support. Reassurance is integral in conversations about these feelings as a sense of confidence has a great impact on how we learn.

Being aware of the often uncomfortable emotions associated with CFD and the difference between this and the zone of anxiety will hopefully be reassuring to our students. As long as they remember that while it might be hard now, and they may worry that they will not ever find it easy, if they persevere and access support from their teachers, in time they will achieve their goal. The rewards they experience as a result of this form of curiosity, will hopefully give them the confidence to embrace future challenges with a resilient and inquisitive mind.




  • Brown, D. J. (2006). Descartes and the Passionate Mind [Electronic]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  • Fincham, F. D. (2004). Facilitating Curiosity: A Social and Self-Regulatory Perspective for Scientifically Based Interventions. In T. B. Kashdan (Author), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 482-503). John Wiley & Sons.


  • Ferrari, J. (2012, July 23). Failure’s all in the mind: Learn to embrace it. The Australian.


  • Greenberg, D. (1999). Curiosity, Self-Respect and Learning. Sudval. Retrieved July/August, 2012, from


  • Hidalgo, P. J. (n.d.). Curiosity based learning and self-education. InTeGrate. Retrieved July/August, 2012, from


  • Leonard, N. H., & Harvey, M. G. (2007). Curiosity, mindfulness and learning style in the acquisition of knowledge by individuals / organisations. Int. Journal: Learning and Intellectual Capital, 4(3), 294-314.


  • Litman, J. A. (2005). Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: Wanting and liking new information. Cognition and Emotion, 19(6), 793-814.



  • Ross, W. D. (2012). Aristotle, Metaphysics Book 1 [Ebook]. Adelaide: University of Adelaide.

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