US research suggests that piquing people’s interest can entice them to healthier choices over more tempting, unhealthy ones.
According to study findings presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, curiosity could be an effective tool to entice people into making smarter and sometimes healthier decisions.
“Our research shows that piquing people’s curiosity can influence their choices by steering them away from tempting desires, like unhealthy foods or taking the elevator, and toward less tempting, but healthier options, such as buying more fresh produce or taking the stairs,” said Evan Polman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an author of the study.
Dr Polman and his colleagues conducted a series of four experiments designed to test how raising people’s curiosity might affect their choices. In each case, arousing curiosity resulted in a noticeable behaviour change.
In one experiment, researchers were able to increase use of the stairs in a university building nearly 10 per cent by posting trivia questions near the lifts and promising the answers in the stairwell. In another, they increased the purchase of fresh produce in grocery stores by 10 per cent by placing placards with a joke on them and printing the punchline on bag closures.
Dr Polman says the strategies employed in these experiments and field studies are similar to those used by websites that attempt to increase traffic with sensationalised headlines containing phrases such as, ‘You won’t believe what happened next’ or ‘You’ll be shocked when you see this’.
Known as clickbait, these headlines typically aim to exploit a “curiosity gap” by providing just enough information to make readers curious, but not enough to satisfy this curiosity without them engaging in a desired behaviour (ie, clicking on a link).
While Dr Polman and his colleagues said they were not surprised that curiosity could change behaviour, they were surprised at the overall strength of the effect.
“Evidently, people really have a need for closure when something has piqued their curiosity,” Dr Polman said. “They want the information that fills the curiosity gap, and they will go to great lengths to get it.”