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Is a 'curiosity gap' controlling what we click on?


Screenshot of BuzzFeed's home page on March 3, 2014. Do any of those sample titles make you curious? The pizza guy one makes us curious and hungry.
Screenshot of BuzzFeed's home page on March 3, 2014. Do any of those sample titles make you curious? The pizza guy one makes us curious and hungry.
Screenshot taken by HowStuffWorks

Anyone who has a job and Internet access knows the appeal of procrastination is hard to resist. Why else would we feel compelled to click on titles like "Elephants never forget, but this pachyderm is one you'll remember for a lifetime"? (A made-up title, but in my imagination that's a story about an elephant that creates portraits of terminally ill children using only peanut shells.)

Heck, it doesn't even take a job. Just having the entirety of the world's information a keyboard away is enough to send most of us down a rabbit hole, whether or not we have something more pressing to do. So why do we sometimes go against our better judgment to click on a headline? It might have less to do with procrastination and more to do with an urgent psychological need to make sure we're not "missing" information.

There's a fair amount of debate about why we're curious. Is it an innate drive (like hunger), or does it stem from an external event that doesn't seem to fit into our worldview, and thus needs exploration? Does curiosity reside in all of us, or is it something that's only aroused by certain external forces?

Psychologists certainly don't have a definitive answer (although HowStuffWorks has the definitive article), but they have been playing around for years with different theories about the foundations of curiosity. For example, in the early 1990s, George Loewenstein (a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon) argued that curiosity is the result of a perceived "gap" of information in our knowledge that we feel is a deprivation.

This curiosity gap, some argue, is the reason you feel the need to stop working on that financial report for your boss and click on an article titled, "How peace in the Middle East would be possible if we listen to this one little boy." It does pique your interest, but why?


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