Psybersafe Blog

Read our short, informative blog posts to understand more about cyber security and how people’s behaviour is key to improving it.

(5 min read)

Curiosity, or the drive for information and experiences that motivates exploration, plays a role in intellectual development. Curiosity is perhaps essential to education and intellectual achievement, 

Curiosity is the process of gaining knowledge – something that fulfils a desire to find out more. It comes in many forms, and while it has lots of positive benefits – increasing our understanding, expanding our horizons – it is also widely exploited to encourage us to investigate things that we might not otherwise be interested in.

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What does behavioural science say?

An article in the Harvard Business Review highlights the ‘Five Dimensions of Curiosity’. Researchers built on the work of several leading psychologists to create this model, which has defined the following five types of curiosity:

  • Deprivation sensitivity – filling a known gap in your knowledge.
  • Joyous exploration – always wanting to know more about the world around you.
  • Social curiosity – interacting with others (with their knowledge and without) to learn more about them.
  • Stress tolerance – the ability to harness the anxiety associated with new things, to enable exploration
  • Thrill seeking – being willing to take significant risks in order to do, know or experience something new.

Other researchers note that: ‘curiosity is a form of reward anticipation' (Kang et al., 2009). And Kobayashi & Hsu (2019) said: 'the reward value of information is processed in the same way as conventional rewards, like food or money’.

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While information is rewarding because it allows for better decision-making, ‘Information can also be traded (bragged about, compared with what friends think),’ observes Colin F. Camerer, director of the California Institute of Technology's Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience. 'Even if information does not have any immediate value, the brain has a general hunger for just knowing for the sake of knowing.’

Further, Professor Kou Muruyama at the University of Tübingen says curiosity is: ‘A reward-learning framework of knowledge acquisition: An integrated account of curiosity, interest, and intrinsic-extrinsic rewards.’ (Murayama et al, 2019, Process account of curiosity and interest: a reward-learning perspective, Educational Psychology Review (2019) 31:875–895)

But isn't trivia a little, well, trivial? Murayama suggests this kind of curiosity doesn’t last long as there’s a lack of contextual knowledge. A trivia snippet is basically standalone piece of knowledge. In reality, acquisition of knowledge is not an end in itself.  New knowledge is incorporated into our existing knowledge base and this works to encourage further knowledge seeking. And in fact, Murayama suggests that knowledge acquisition can become self-sustaining: new knowledge boosts motivation for acquiring new knowledge.  

Curiosity is King

We see exploitation of these types of curiosity every day. This is April, of course, when April Fool’s Day inspires everyone from Dad-jokers to major news outlets to create stories that spark enough curiosity to convince people they could be true.

And advertisers use curiosity to draw people to their products or services – think of the ‘clickbait’ headlines you see on social media. They are designed to pique your curiosity with a suggestion of something you could learn, do differently or benefit from, and because we are curious, we click. We’re often disappointed, of course, but the advertiser has done their job.

How does this apply to cyber crime?

Almost no one understands the power of curiosity better than the cyber criminal. They are masters of psychology, and know exactly what buttons to push to engage people and encourage them to click, open, download and share.

The other day, we received one of those emails that promised us a share of a fortune, if only we would share our bank details for the sender to move the funds to. These emails seem quite basic as far as scams are concerned – today’s serious hackers are much more sophisticated – but curiosity about the possibility of getting some ‘money for nothing’ will still encourage some people to take a look and even send their details.

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It's appealing to our innate sense of curiosity that allows criminals to access organisations’ critical data and finances. All they have to do is persuade one person in the organisation to click a link, download a file or share some essential information, and they have everything they need to worm their way in.

So, while curiosity is a great thing for enhancing our wider knowledge and understanding, informing research, education and creativity, it’s also the easiest way for hackers to get into your organisation.

So, how can you be ‘safely curious’?

We don’t want to banish curiosity – without it, we wouldn’t have developed our online training programme? But we do want to help people manage their curiosity in certain situations so that they can protect themselves and their organisations from attack.

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The best way to become safely curious in these circumstances is to understand what makes you vulnerable, and change your behaviours so that you become less of a target. In the same way we encourage people to protect their homes by locking doors and windows, setting alarms and putting up security lights, good cyber training enables you to protect yourself – and the people you work with – without damaging your natural curiosity.

Interested? Or rather, curious?  You can find out more about our quick, fun, measurable online training here, or book a demo today.

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Mark 200x200Mark Brown is a behavioural science expert with significant experience in inspiring organisational and culture change that lasts.  If you’d like to chat about using Psybersafe in your business to help to stay cyber secure, contact Mark today.