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Facilitating Youth’s Curiosity in Learning: Needs-based Ecological Examinations

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The decline of curiosity during adolescence has received increasing concerns in education. The present study aimed to identify the key factors in the environment that promote young people’s curiosity from a needs-based ecological perspective, focusing on family and school. To enable a better understanding of the developmental effects, this study compared two age groups: 10-year-olds and 15-year-olds. A total of 5482 Finnish students (3034 aged 10 and 2448 aged 15; 48% female and 51% male) from the OECD Survey on Social-emotional Skills participated in the study, and their family and school factors related to basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) were assessed through surveys. Hierarchical Linear Modeling results revealed that: (1) contrary to the expectations, factors that support competence and relatedness facilitated youth curiosity to a greater extent than factors that support autonomy; (2) positive relationships with teachers were more beneficial for curiosity among older youth than younger youth; whereas, a sense of belonging at school was the most important factor for younger youth’s curiosity. These findings have significant implications for promoting curiosity in general as well as during different age periods.

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The paper is based on an unpublished master thesis by Haoyan Huang; The authors thank Junlin Yu for his initial statistical consulting help.

Authors’ Contributions

H.H. conceptually designed the study, performed statistical analysis, interpreted the results, and drafted and revised the manuscript; X.T. proposed the research idea, conceptually designed the study, interpreted the results, and drafted and revised the manuscript; K.S.A. reviewed and revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


H.H. has been supported by China Scholarship Council. X.T. has been supported by Shanghai Pujiang Program (22PJC057). The research has been supported by the Academy of Finland (336138, 340794, 345117, and 345264) to K.S.A.

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets analyzed in the current study are available in the OECD project “Survey on Social and Emotional Skills”. This open-access data that can be accessed from this site

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Correspondence to Xin Tang.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

The present study is based on secondary data analysis of publicly available data, the study is exempt from ethical consent considerations.

Informed Consent

Participation was voluntary, and informed consent forms were collected from both the students and their parents by OECD SSES project.

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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix A: Summary of key constructs and their measures

Appendix A: Summary of key constructs and their measures


Factor Loading


Curiosity (single-informant, reported by youth and parents)

See the SSES Technical Report

I am / He or She is eager to learn

I / he or she like(s) to know how things work

I / he or she like(s) learning new things

I / he or she don’t / doesn’t like learning (R)

I / he or she love(s) learning new things in school

I / he or she find(s) science interesting

Curiosity (single-informant, reported by teachers)

He or she like(s) learning new things

He or she don’t / doesn’t like learning (R)

He or she love(s) learning new things in school

Curiosity (multi-informant)①


Curiosity reported by youth


Curiosity reported by parents


Curiosity reported by teachers

Mothers’ Autonomy Support


Mother understand me.


Mother listen to me.

Fathers’ Autonomy Support


Father understands me.


Father listens to me.

Parents’ Autonomy Support


Mothers’ Autonomy Support (The latent variable composed of mother understands and listens to me)


Fathers’ Autonomy Support (The latent variable composed of father understands and listens to me)

Relations with Parents (R)

See the SSES Technical Report

I get upset easily with my parents

It is hard for me to talk with my parents

I feel angry with my parents

Relations with Teachers

Most of my teachers treated me fairly.

I got along well with most of my teachers.

Most of my teachers were interested in my well-being.

Sense of Belonging at School

I feel like an outsider (or left out of things) at school (R).

I make friends easily at school.

I feel like I belong at school.

I feel awkward and out of place in my school (R).

Other students seem to like me.

I feel lonely at school (R).

Teachers’ Autonomy Support Autonomy


Students are given opportunities to explain their ideas.


A whole class discussion takes place in which I participate.


I discuss questions that students ask.

Teachers’ Competence Support


I get students to believe they can do well in school work.


I help my students to value learning.


I motivate students who show low interest in school work.

  1. ① Multi-informant Curiosity (used as the dependent variable in this study) was composed of three curiosity scores reported by youth, their parents, and their teachers.
  2. ② Regarding Parents’ Autonomy Support, this study first composed Mothers’ and Fathers’ Autonomy Support (each with two items, respectively), and then composed Parents’ Autonomy Support.

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Huang, H., Tang, X. & Salmela-Aro, K. Facilitating Youth’s Curiosity in Learning: Needs-based Ecological Examinations. J. Youth Adolescence 53, 595–608 (2024).

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