The Curious HumanInterest, or curiosity, appears to be one of the nine or so feelings—or responses to stimuli—with which we are born. Interest is crucial to our learning, exploratory activities, and creativity. The psychologist Sivan Tomkins has explored this feeling (“affect”) in depth. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist, calls this reaction “SEEKING” (his capitals).

But what happens when this feeling of interest/curiosity is squashed… especially if there is an inhibiting pattern early in a child’s life?

Virginia Demos gives a nice example. Suppose the infant spots a pair of scissors and crawls toward them. As the infant reaches for them, the caregiver yells, “No—Stop!” But, asks Demos, stop what? Stop being interested in scissors? Stop being interested in new objects? The caregiver has acted to help prevent possible harm to the baby, but has not validated the interest affect or helped her safely explore scissors or shift the interest to a safer object. The command is simply no.

So what to do? What would you do?

References for Interested Readers

Demos EV (1994). Links between mother-infant transactions and the infant’s psychic organization. Paper presented to the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society, May, 1994.

Panksepp J (1998). Affective Neuroscience: The Foundation of Human and Animal Emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tomkins SS (1962). Affect Imagery Consciousness (Volume I): The Positive Affects. New York: Springer.

Tomkins SS (1991). Affect Imagery Consciousness (Volume III): The Negative Affects: Anger and Fear. New York: Springer.