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Children’s scientific curiosity: In search of an operational definition of an elusive concept

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journal contribution
posted on 01.06.2012, 00:00 by Jamie Jirout, David Klahr

Although curiosity is an undeniably important aspect of children’s cognitive development, a universally accepted operational definition of children’s curiosity does not exist. Almost all of the research on measuring curiosity has focused on adults, and has used predominately questionnaire-type measures that are not appropriate for young children. In this review we (a) synthesize the range of definitions and measures of children’s curiosity and (b) propose a new operational definition and measurement procedure for assessing and advancing scientific curiosity in young children. In the first part of the paper, we summarize Loewenstein’s (1994) review of theoretical perspectives on adult curiosity, and critically evaluate a wide range of efforts to create and implement operational measures of curiosity, focusing mainly on behavioral measures of curiosity in children. In the second part, we return to Loewenstein’s theory and present an argument for adopting his “information-gap” theory of curiosity as a framework for reviewing various procedures that have been suggested for measuring children’s exploratory curiosity. Finally, we describe a new paradigm for measuring exploratory curiosity in preschool children, defining curiosity as the threshold of desired uncertainty in the environment that leads to exploratory behavior. We present data demonstrating the reliability and validity of this measure, discuss initial results on developmental differences in young children’s curiosity, and conclude with a general summary and suggestions for future research.


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