“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 from University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.
Researchers 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 the first experiment, researchers approached 200 people in a university library and gave them a choice between two fortune cookies, one plain and one dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles.
Half the participants were given no additional information and half were told that the plain cookie contained a fortune that would tell them something personal which researchers already knew about them. Participants whose curiosity was piqued (who were told the plain cookie contained a fortune specifically about them) overwhelmingly chose the plain cookie by 71 per cent.
In contrast, when participants were told nothing, 80 per cent chose the chocolate-dipped cookie. “By telling people if they choose the ordinary cookie they will learn something about themselves via the fortune inside of it, it piqued their curiosity, and therefore they were more likely to pick the plain cookie over the more tempting chocolate-dipped option,” said Polman.
In another experiment, researchers increased the proportion of participants who chose to view what was described as a high-brow, intellectual video clip by promising to tell the secret behind a magic trick. In the field study, researchers were able to increase the use of the stairs in a university building nearly 10 per cent by posting trivia questions near the elevators 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. 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 like, “you will not believe what happened next” or “you will be shocked when you see this,” said Polman.