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A Case for Domain-Specific Curiosity in Mathematics

Abstract

Epistemic curiosity is a desire for knowledge accompanied by positive emotions, increased arousal, and exploratory behavior (Grossnickle, Educational Psychology Review, 28(1), 23–60, 2016). Although curiosity has typically been characterized as a domain-general construct, domain-general conceptualizations do not acknowledge systematic changes in an individuals’ development (e.g., domain knowledge) as they advance within a domain. Moreover, a domain-general conceptualization of curiosity stands in direct contrast to research on interest, given that interest is typically described as domain-specific (e.g., interest for mathematics). Without a domain-specific conceptualization of curiosity as it relates to development within academic domains, comparisons between curiosity and interest will remain muddled. In the present theoretical review, we put forward a conceptualization of curiosity as domain-specific and examine how the components of curiosity develop within one academic domain: mathematics. In doing so, we juxtapose conceptualizations of epistemic curiosity with literature related to the development of other epistemic factors (i.e., knowledge, epistemic beliefs) in mathematics. Specifically, we build on the knowledge gap theories of epistemic curiosity (Litman, Personality and Individual Differences, 48(4), 397–410, 2010; Loewenstein, Psychological Bulletin, 116(1), 75–98, 1994) to consider developmental shifts in (a) knowledge gaps, (b) heightened arousal, and (c) exploratory behaviors within the domain of mathematics. Understanding the domain-specific and developmental nature of curiosity is critical for distinguishing curiosity from interest and for supporting motivation within mathematics classrooms.

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Notes

  1. It is important to note that curiosity is not universally viewed as positive. Some researchers have argued that curiosity has an aversive component, whereby individuals seek to reduce the discomfort of uncertainty (Berlyne 1960; Jepma et al. 2012; Litman and Jimerson 2004). However, more research is needed (see Murayama et al. this issue).

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Correspondence to Emily Grossnickle Peterson.

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Peterson, E.G., Cohen, J. A Case for Domain-Specific Curiosity in Mathematics. Educ Psychol Rev 31, 807–832 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09501-4

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Keywords

  • Curiosity
  • Interests
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Information-seeking
  • Epistemology
  • Knowledge level
  • Mathematics education
  • Mathematical ability