The Importance of Intellectual Curiosity


Erika Hartman, In-Depth Writer

From podcasts about ape endocrine systems to true crime documentaries, the world is full of heaps of knowledge. Although many have been taught that the only knowledge that matters is what one learns in school, the most brilliant are those that understand the vast and incomprehensible ocean of knowledge in the world. The problem with the contemporary world is that only certain types of knowledge are valued, and generally they are practical skills that make someone a good worker or employee. Nevertheless, countless instances have shown that being smart or being a focused worker is not what makes people successful or fulfilled, but rather the sensation of intellectual curiosity. 


Intellectual curiosity can be defined as the recognition, pursuit and desire to explore new, challenging and uncertain possibilities or ideas. However, intellectual curiosity is much more than a feeling, but rather a motivation. Curiosity has been linked to increase meaning of life and happiness, as well as promoting creativity, satisfying and intimate relationships and constant personal growth. Regardless of that, the real importance of curiosity for high school students is to find a motive in life in order to avoid the otherwise crushing and stress-filled time of school. At times, schoolwork can be tiresome and feel pointless, but intellectual curiosity allows students to have a greater sense of purpose and gives motivation for learning. Curiosity also allows students to set long-term goals and see past the burnout of their high school years. 


Now one might be thinking to themselves, ‘Well if I am smart, would it truly benefit me in school and life to also be curious?’ And the answer to that question is, yes. Yes, it would. While schools and governments often put most of their attention and focus towards standardized tests when labeling ‘gifted students’, research has shown that little regard is paid to signs of curiosity and motivation. A survey conducted by Florida State University in the early 2000s revealed that only three states in the U.S. considered motivation a part of giftedness. On the contrary, 45 states require IQ tests and 39 require standardized tests of achievement when considering intellectual ability. 


Orville Wright, one of the famous brothers who invented the plane, was once told by a close friend that he would be an example for how far one can go in life with no handouts. To this he replied, “to say we had no special advantages … The greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.” The Wright brothers were by all accounts extremely intelligent men, but even Orville knew to attribute his successes to his curiosity and neverending motivation, rather than his intellectual giftedness.


It is also important to say that intellectual curiosity and gifted intelligence are not mutually exclusive, and are generally not related at all.  The Fullerton Longitudinal Study conducted by Adele and Allen Gottefrid of California State University found over its 30+ year span that gifted curiosity is a category of its own. Of the 111 teenage participants in the study, the top 19% were shown to be ‘motivationally gifted’, enjoying school and learning challenging, novel and difficult subjects. However, only eight of the students were shown to be both intellectually and motivationally gifted. In the end, it was observed that the motivationally gifted and intellectually curious individuals outperformed their fellow participants in a range of educational outcomes such as SAT scores, math and reading performance and even success in college. According to many teachers, motivated students, not necessarily intellectually gifted students, worked harder and learned more. 


In conclusion, perhaps it is more worthwhile to spend one’s time finding passion and joy in the world around them than working in school with no long-term goals or aspirations. Remember that there is a life to live after college and although it is important for one to work hard in school, staying curious, motivated and engaged will lead to a life of more success and fulfillment.