A new study has revealed key differences in the reasons why different people seek new information.

While some people are more curious than others, we all have the drive to learn new things from time to time. 

From looking up a new recipe online to asking a friend for a restaurant recommendation, seeking new information is something most of us do on a daily basis.

In some cases, the new information is necessary – we might need to learn how to unblock a sink or look after a plant when presented with a challenge or issue. But in some cases – such as when we look up a new recipe – this information is not necessary at all. So why do we seek these new ideas, experiences and ways of doing things? 

According to a new study, the reasons why we go about seeking this so-called ‘noninstrumental’ information varies from person to person. 

In fact, the research – which was conducted by psychologists at the University of Melbourne – suggests there are two types of personalities when it comes to information seeking.

The first ‘type’ of curious person put forward by the researchers was someone who does so because they simply love to explore and learn new things. These types of people might enjoy taking part in quiz shows or reading books about random topics just for the sake of it and are likely to have personalities higher in traits associated with curiosity and openness. 

The first type of curious person was someone who seeks new information for fun.

The second curious personality type the researchers outlined was quite different. These people don’t seek information for enjoyment, but do so to reduce uncertainty – they’re driven by worry and a need to feel safe and informed, and are likely to have personalities higher in traits associated with anxiety, such as neuroticism.

For example, these people might look up the route to a destination numerous times before going there to make sure they don’t get lost, or research every symptom of a health condition to reassure themselves that they don’t have it.

To test their theory, the team conducted two online studies in which they rated participants on a number of different personality traits (openness, neuroticism, curiosity and uncertainty intolerance) and compared it to the way they approached a series of online games compiled of two routes – an exploration pathway, and a safety pathway. 

It mostly concluded what the researchers had suggested in the first place: those who ranked higher in openness and curiosity were more likely to follow the exploration pathway, while those who were higher in uncertainty intolerance (but not neuroticism, surprisingly) were more likely to take the safety pathway.

It’s an interesting way to look at how we navigate the world – and is a reminder of how fun it can be to simply seek out information for the sake of it, especially if you’re someone who usually seeks information as a way to calm your anxiety.  

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