Why do humans (primates) tend to be curious, inquisitive and explorative?

They want to know things that they do not. They explore stuff in an attempt to find something new which makes them adventurous and willing to accept challenges. They tend to be curious about what others are doing and going through, making them inquisitive.

What's the cause of this human (primate) behavior?


3 Answers 3


We are driven by this need to find answer to our questions.

Many questions arise from one's mind by experiencing new events or feelings, or having to sort out a cognitive dissonance. An example of this would be the need for victims to find the guilty.

When we can’t immediately gratify our desire to know, we become highly motivated to reach a concrete explanation. That motivation, in Kagan’s conception, lies at the heart of most other common motives: achievement, affiliation, power, and the like. We want to eliminate the distress of the unknown. We want, in other words, to achieve “cognitive closure.” http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/04/why-we-need-answers.html

Going further, there is an intimate relationship between open mindedness and curiosity. Someone thinking he knows it all will never seek for new information or experiences; he will probably stick to denial to protect his intellectual integrity, his homeostasis. Most religions are providing a preconceived cognitive model to answer all that is beyond our understanding.

Skepticism is also correlated to curiosity, as it reopens questions many thought answered for years and it's the base of scientific research. Like Scott Peck (and probably many others) said, science is the religion of skepticism.

And I must say, the feeling of satisfaction is a great motivator for one to answer questions. These eureka moments, when you know you found something, is what drives me to solve problems. The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out is a great interview with Richard Feynman that will inspire many on the subject.

In conclusion, curiosity (and scientific research in general) is a cycle that arises when one connects dots when analyzing new answers, which most of the time leads to more unanswered questions.

  • One makes connections with different sources of data
  • Questions arises from these new connections
  • Research is done until a plausible answer (rational and provable for scientists) is found
  • One uses this new answers to explain some phenomenon, and then the cycle restarts

But not all questions can be answered, because there is an infinite amount of them in all directions. When we accept this fact, curiosity becomes voluntary based. We then have to choose which answers we are able to answer within our limited lifetime.

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    $\begingroup$ is it possible to reach homeostasis and/or cognitive closure while living with more infinite unanswered questions an or concrete explanations? $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2014 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yes i believe one could cope with the conclusion that not all questions can be answered because there is an infinite amount of them in all directions. In this situation, it entirely depends on wheter he wants to solve problems. One would then have to choose which answers would he be able to answer within his limited lifetime. $\endgroup$
    – icosamuel
    Jan 23, 2014 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ @GregMcNulty I updated my answer to include this last part. I must say, your question left me wondering about reasons for motivation. $\endgroup$
    – icosamuel
    Jan 23, 2014 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't say, "Religions are all about" any one thing. There is plenty of variety among them, and plenty of complexity in each (e.g., many religions are also "about" social support and control). As for science, I would sooner call it a religion of empiricism myself, but again, it's about more than one thing, including skepticism, as you've said. Anyway, +1 in general! $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2014 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ You weren't wrong that religions are majorly about answering the unanswerable! Just not "all"...It was a minor point :) $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2014 at 23:50

From my modest point of view, I am guessing that curiosity is a trait that evolved with primates. Curiosity may have helped our ancestors find new sources of food, or better avoid predators by watching them and being more aware of their surroundings.

And then human babies, if praised for their curiosity in their youth, grow up to love being curious. And become curious about things that have no apparent physical connection to survival, like mathematical proofs and physics theories. They become curious about subjects like astronomy, and computer science.

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    $\begingroup$ If you can find references that back up your claims, this would be a much stronger answer. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2014 at 1:02

Here's an interesting abstract from a relevant paper I found a while back:

This paper proposes a new theoretical model of curiosity that incorporates the neuroscience of "wanting" and "liking", which are two systems hypothesised to underlie motivation and affective experience for a broad class of appetites. In developing the new model, the paper discusses empirical and theoretical limitations inherent to drive and optimal arousal theories of curiosity, and evaluates these models in relation to Litman and Jimerson's (2004) recently developed interest-deprivation (I/D) theory of curiosity. A detailed discussion of the I/D model and its relationship to the neuroscience of wanting and liking is provided, and an integrative I/D/wanting-liking model is proposed, with the aim of clarifying the complex nature of curiosity as an emotional-motivational state, and to shed light on the different ways in which acquiring knowledge can be pleasurable.


Litman, J. (2005). Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: Wanting and liking new information. Cognition & Emotion, 19(6), 793–814. Available online, URL: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic951139.files/curiosityPleasureOfLearning-litman.pdf.


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