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Encouraging Healthy Choices by Piquing Curiosity

You might prefer watching TV rather than exercising, or ordering pizza instead of preparing dinner. Psychologists call this a ‘want/should conflict’.

People often favor the ‘want’ option, which focuses on the impulsive satisfaction of desire regardless of its impacts, over the ‘should’ option.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison used curiosity to influence people to favor the ‘should’ option.

Twentieth Century American writer William Arthur Ward described curiosity as ‘’the wick in the candle of learning.” Researchers have defined it as a cognitive and positive feeling of eagerness that seeks to fulfill knowing the uncertain and unknown.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers conducted three experiments to influence the choices of participants in their study toward healthier ones.

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First, the researchers asked a group of people to choose between a regular fortune cookie and another dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles. The scientists told half of the group that the plain cookie had a piece of paper inside that would tell them something personal that the researchers already knew about them.

Predictably, 80% of the group of people who knew about the information inside the plain cookies chose the chocolate-covered ones. On the other hand, 71% of those who had piquing curiosity chose the plain, information-containing cookies.

To test the effectiveness of curiosity on a larger sample, the researchers encouraged people to use the stairs at the university by placing placards with trivia questions beside the elevator, presenting the answers consecutively on each floor.

The use of the stairs increased by 10%. When the researchers placed placards with jokes on fresh produce, with the punch lines hidden in the bag closures, purchases also increased by 10%.

Islam Pro Curiosity?

Qur’an has similarly provided us with examples that support the effectiveness of using curiosity to influence personal behavior.


Information allows for better choices, more efficient search, more sophisticated comparisons, and better identification of conspecifics. Acquiring information is the primary evolutionary purpose of the sense organs.

In Surat Al-An’am verses 74 to 76, Prophet Abraham’s curiosity prompts him to find God:

And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said to his father Azar, “Do you take idols as deities? Indeed, I see you and your people to be in manifest error.” And thus, did We show Abraham the realm of the heavens and the earth that he would be among the certain [in faith]. So when the night covered him [with darkness], he saw a star. He said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “I like not those that disappear.” And when he saw the moon rising, he said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “Unless my Lord guides me, I will surely be among the people gone astray.”

Following this, verses 77, 78 and 79 tell us: “And when he saw the sun rising, he said, “This is my lord; this is greater.” But when it set, he said, “O my people, indeed I am free from what you associate with Allah. Indeed, I have turned my face toward He who created the heavens and the earth, inclining toward truth, and I am not of those who associate others with Allah.”

Surat Taha verses 10 to 12 tell us that Prophet Moses’ curiosity was piqued when he saw fire and told his family, “Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire; perhaps I can bring you a torch or find at the fire some guidance.”

It was at the fire that God informed Moses about choosing him to receive revelation.

Curious is Positive

Curiosity can involve positive feelings of interest and can prompt people to seek knowledge that enhances their lives.

Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) encouraged believers to seek knowledge when he said: “Acquire knowledge, it enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lights the way to heaven.”

Additionally, Prophet Muhammad said: “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.”

Curiosity can also have negative consequences, of course. But psychologists have shown that piquing people’s curiosity can influence their behavior toward healthier choices.

We denote the behavior of being curious, in regard to the desire to gain knowledge or information. Curiosity as an emotion is the driving force behind human development. It also helped us to developments science, language, and technology.

Curiosity is one of the noblest human drives. The world of infants is full of potential sources for learning, but they possess limited information-processing resources. Infants enter the world with some simple, low-level heuristics for guiding their attention towards certain informative features of the world.

Externally driven motivation is not sufficient. Learners also must adapt to changing needs as they build up and modify their mental representations of the world.

Although information is intangible, it has real value to any organism with the capacity to make use of it. Even simple organisms trade off information for rewards. Allah has created them with simple information-seeking neural systems.


Curiosity is associated with development, in which derives the process of learning and desire to acquire knowledge and skill.

About Lamia Mostafa Elsayed Abo-Elkhear
Lamia Mostafa Elsayed Abo-Elkhear graduated in 2008 from Zoology Department of the Faculty of Science at Tanta University. She finished a diploma in Biochemistry and Physiology at the Faculty of Science, Suez University in 2013. She received her masters' degree in Immunology at the Faculty of Science, Tanta University in 2015. And she's currently a Ph.D. student of Biology at the Zoology Department of the Faculty of Science at Tanta University.The Egyptian biologist is a volunteer at the Public Relations Department of Egypt Scholars Inc. and she works as a Medical Representative at Sigma Pharmaceuticals Company, Egypt.