Curiosity. It’s the Gaps that Count.

by | Sep 30, 2020 | Neuroscience in Action

In our busy world, we are continually bombarded with sights, sounds, and even smells that overwhelm our senses and stretch our brains. But while we are busy making sense of what’s there, have you ever stopped to think of the opposite? Of what isn’t there. Of what’s missing. Of the gaps.

But even though we might not always notice them, the gaps are there. There are things unseen, hidden from view—fragments of half conversations. A slight smell drifting on the wind. There are even gaps in our knowledge that we may or may not be aware of.  But all these gaps have something in common. They have the power to evoke curiosity. In fact, according to some scientists such as George Loewenstein of Carnegie-Mellon, a gap is all your brain needs to stoke its curiosity.

His theory – the information gap theory of curiosity – states that curiosity arises when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know.” In other words, when we have part of the information available in plain sight, but where there is a gap that creates uncertainty about what else might be there. An uncertainty that, in the eyes of your brain, needs to be resolved. And so it is this gap, this uncertainty, that motivates the brain to be curious. To fill in the gap, remove the uncertainty, and discover the answer to what’s missing.

Gaps are, therefore, powerful motivators of behavior. You have to think of how TV shows and movies are written to see this kind of effect pan out in practice. Because you aren’t left wanting to watch the next episode because of what you’ve seen or because of what you know. You want to continue watching because of the gaps. Because the story has left you wondering, “what will happen next?”.

But as well as these gaps that people create deliberately to keep us curious and engaged, there are millions of other gaps that we come across every day. Mostly we will pass then by. Carry on without giving them a moment’s thought. But we shouldn’t.

So why do these gaps matter? Well, because we live in a world where curiosity is slowly becoming a lost art for adults. Where we often find ourselves stuck on a hamster wheel of habits that are similar day in, day out. Taking a moment to focus on the gaps between what we know and what we want to know is a way to break this status quo.

So how can you apply this practically at work? Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask yourself the question, what don’t I know that I want to know? Even start to write down a list of things that you would love to find out more about. Big or small. It is all a way to grow your curiosity.
  • Take a moment to look around you. Are there gaps or things missing in the room that pique your interest? If there are, go and discover the answers that your brain needs to remove the uncertainty.
  • Next time you are writing a presentation, think about how you can use gaps to raise the curiosity and engagement of your audience. Maybe it’s the way you organize the content on your slides or the story that you tell as you get your point across.
  • Think about how you can use gaps to get your team to be more curious about how they approach tasks. Maybe give them a starter for what you want them to work on and highlight the gaps to get them going.

In sum, gaps remind us that it’s not just what’s there that counts. It’s also what’s not there that we need to pay attention to make the most of the world around us. 

If you want to know more about how how to keep yourself or your workforce curious, then get in touch with us at Synaptic Potential.

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