Can curiosity be described as an emotion?

On one hand it is definitely an emotion in the sense that is a feeling. IT feels like you want to know something. Furthermore, it can be pleasant or unpleasant according to the circumstances. So there is a basis for thinking that I could. I am wondering if there are good arguments on why it would be problematic to define curiosity as an emotion?

  • $\begingroup$ I am inclined to think of the mind of as either inputs or outputs. Most emotions such as fear, anger, amusement are outputs and all have a direct causal relationship with something: If I am scared, I feel fear. If I have been wronged in some way, I feel anger. I may feel curious, but that is because I (a) recognize a need for inputs (insight, answers, etc) that help me better understand context. $\endgroup$
    – user11570
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 17:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What definition of emotion are you working with? $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 17:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The answer is yes ("I feel curious"). It could also be a personality trait ("I'm a curious person"). In fact, there's nothing particularly special about the category of "emotion." Practically anything could belong to "emotion" if it… (i) is a categorization/interpretation (ii) of your affective feelings (iii) in a given situation. For example, I could feel good when I put on socks and label my affective experience as sockiness. That would be an emotion. Similarly, curiosity describes an affective feeling in some context. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe emotion can be thought of as intellect responding to dynamic synthesis of biological chemicals. In this sense emotion is a filter for intellectual analysis; but also, this intellectual analysis serves as feedback for the dynamic nature of emotion. $\endgroup$
    – Eric Roper
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


The currently accepted model of curiosity is that of Litman. It describes curiosity as a sort of motivating factor:

Curiosity as a feeling of deprivation (CFD) reflects feelings of uncertainty and tension that motivate information-seeking and problem-solving behavior.

Now we only need to establish a link between motivation and emotional intelligence. In this study, scientists found a link between the two, but came to conclusion that:

Structural equation modeling indicates that motivation is not a factor of emotional ntelligence but that it is related to the construct particularly through the regulation of emotion and the appraisal of others’ emotions

Edit based on more updated study:

Before we proceed further, I tried to find further proof that curiosity is indeed a motivation. I found confirmation of that here, which categorises curiosity as an intrinsic motivation.

Back on topic, Here is an invaluable resource that I found thanks to mrt: The Psychological Construction of Emotion - Edited by Barrett and Russell

The entire chapter 11 is relevant. It contains lots of relevant citations too (Specially the works of Panksepp). I can't quote all of it because fair use has a limit. I will just post a glimpse:

In view of the clear evidence linking DA transmission to aspects of motivation, what does this say about dopaminergic involvement in emotion? Is DA irrelevant as an ingredient in emotional states? Not necessarily. Burgdorf and Panksepp (2006) suggested that ventral striatal mechanisms are not related to “pleasure” or “consummatory reward” in the traditional sense, but instead are involved in anticipatory or appetitive energizing effects of stimuli.

The book establishes a difference between hedonic "liking" and dopamine-induced "wanting". [ Dopamine has been linked to pleasurable simulations as well as aversive stimulations ] Depressed people do not lose their appreciation of pleasurable things like tasty food (quoting the book here), but find no energy in their pursuit of motivational stimuli, exertion of effort, and motivational anticipation.

In conclusion: I would like to propose that being curious is similar to being a foodie, or adventurous. Not sure about lexical term, but there seems to be a need to differentiate between core emotions and their drive.

  • $\begingroup$ The model of curiosity you cite makes explicit that curiosity is an emotion or affective state, counter to your conclusion: "curiosity […] reflects feelings of uncertainty and tension." This is emotional. Also, motivation is affect/emotion, independent of whether it's tied to emotional intelligence (which is a separate construct). $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @mrt Litman's theory predates the other theory I linked. Besides, emotion is a literary term, EQ is quantifiable. I was expecting a counter of my claim that curiosity is a motivation, but not a denial of emotional intelligence as a measure of emotion. I will look into the theories of affective state. Do you have any links? $\endgroup$
    – Spero
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ Litman's 2007 paper (link: goo.gl/tXpecP) shows that he follows State-Trait theory of emotion and personality (Spielberger, Ritterband, Sydeman, Reheiser, & Unger, 1995). You have to decide which one you want to believe in. All of these are models. $\endgroup$
    – Spero
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 0:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The theory of emotion/affect I subscribe to is here and here. You can quantify emotion via self-report (e.g., PANAS, SAM), BOLD, psychophysiology, etc. But both of Litman's papers seem to strongly suggest that curiosity, as he defines it, is an emotion or affective state. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ And, indeed, curiosity is just a concept. It's not carved in nature. There's not a curiosity "essence" to be found in our brain. (Not that you say otherwise, but I think it's important to note!) $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 0:36

Short Answer:

No, curiosity cannot be described as an emotion.

Detailed Answer:

Curiosity is a desire, aspiration for something. An emotion is the affective aspect of consciousness, also known as affect integration. However, curiosity and pretty much everything can induce an emotion.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Desire" is inherently affective. So if curiosity is a desire, then it is also affective. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ Also, do you have a source for your definition of curiosity? $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 22:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.