The surprising science behind curiosity

Daniel Engelberg
2 min readSep 16, 2021


Photo by Justin Peterson on Unsplash

You don’t need to develop your curiosity. Your curiosity develops you. It already knows how to do that.

Curiosity is much more important than we realize. The science behind curiosity helps us understand why.

Today curiosity seems like just an optional nice-to-have thing. But actually it played a key role in human evolution, and as a result there’s a whole motivational system in the brain for it.

In our evolutionary history, before schooling, curiosity ensured that young humans learned automatically on their own. You can see curiosity constantly working in children and many other young animals.

It was a key survival trait. Its purpose was, and still is, to develop the person. It evolved to be triggered by things that might make an important difference to survival.

Curiosity was especially important to develop young humans. But it also helped adults discover important things. That’s why it stays on after childhood. But in a sense it brings us back to a childhood state.

Today curiosity no longer needs to attend as much to things in the natural environment. But it still pays attention to things the unconscious mind sees as potentially important and meaningful.

Rooted in the unconscious, curiosity speaks to us in gentle and subtle ways. It doesn’t use force. But it rewards us with a thrilling feeling when we follow it.

And that’s why you don’t need to develop it. It already has a whole built-in mechanism in the brain. But you can increase its expression by learning to listen to it and going where it leads you. The more you listen and follow up on your curiosity, the more it will express itself.