Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Tag

What makes something interesing?

An interesting piece on interestingness.

Apparently, humans find things interesting that are both complex but comprehensible.

The first appraisal is an evaluation of an event’s novelty–complexity, which refers to evaluating an event as new, unexpected, complex, hard to process, surprising, mysterious, or obscure. This appraisal isn’t surprising: Intuition and decades of research show that new, complex, and unexpected events can cause interest. The second, less obvious appraisal is an evaluation of an event’s comprehensibility. Appraisal theories would label this appraisal a coping-potential appraisal because it involves people considering whether they have the skills, knowledge, and resources to deal with an event. In the case of interest, people are “dealing with” an unexpected and complex event—they are trying to understand it. In short, if people appraise an event as new and as comprehensible, then they will find it interesting.

What is the purpose of interest?

Interest’s function is to motivate learning and exploration. By motivating people to learn for its own sake, interest ensures that people will develop a broad set of knowledge, skills, and experience. The need for learning is pressing in infancy. Baby humans are cute but ignorant—they have a lot to learn. Early research on infancy found that exploration, play, and diverse experience enhanced motor and perceptual learning. Beyond infancy, interest is a source of intrinsic motivation for learning. When interested, students persist longer at learning tasks, spend more time studying, read more deeply, remember more of what they read, and get better grades in their classes.

Interest attracts people to new, unfamiliar things, and many of these things will turn out to be trivial, capricious, dangerous, or disturbing. Some people … might understandably see this as a dark side of interest. Nevertheless, it is because unfamiliar things can be harmful that people need a mechanism that motivates them to try new things. One never knows when some new piece of knowledge, new experience, or new friendship may be helpful. Interest is thus a counterweight to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

It seems to make sense.  Perhaps this can explain why I spend hours on the internet everyday.