Epistemic curiosity and related constructs: Lacking evidence of discriminant validity (2022)

Table of Contents
Personality and Individual Differences Abstract Introduction Section snippets Sample Results Sample Results Discussion Acknowledgements References (47) Personality and Individual Differences Personality and Individual Differences Typical intellectual engagement and personality – Reply to Rocklin (1994) Journal of Educational Psychology Cognitive and noncognitive determinants and consequences of complex skill acquisition Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied The HEXACO-60: A short measure of the major dimensions of personality Journal of Personality Assessment Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. McGraw-Hill series in psychology Social-cognitive aspects of identity style: Need for cognition, experiential openness, and introspection Journal of Adolescent Research Need for cognition: Eine Skala zur Erfassung von Engagement und Freude bei Denkaufgaben [need for cognition: A scale measuring engagement and happiness in cognitive tasks] Zeitschrift für Sozialpsychologie The structure of personality characteristics Behavioral Science NEO-Fünf-Faktoren-Inventar (NEO-FFI) nach Costa und McCrae. Handanweisung The need for cognition Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Dispositional differences in cognitive motivation: The life and times of individuals varying in need for cognition Psychological Bulletin The efficient assessment of need for cognition Journal of Personality Assessment Personality and motivation structure and measurement Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences The NEO-PI personality inventory Revised NEO personality inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO five-factor inventory (NEO-FFI) professional inventory Flow: The psychology of optimal experience Curiosity and the interested explorer Performance and Instruction Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factor model Annual Review of Psychology Consistency of factorial structures of personality ratings from different sources Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology Cited by (116) Recommended articles (6) Videos
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Personality and Individual Differences

Volume 49, Issue 5,

October 2010

, Pages 506-510

Abstract

Epistemic curiosity, the “desire for knowledge that motivates individuals to learn new ideas, eliminate information-gaps, and solve intellectual problems” (Litman, 2008), has been identified as a crucial variable in different areas and stages of life. However, several constructs have been proposed that might be highly similar regarding construct domain, but are based on different theoretical positions and were investigated under different labels. Three of these constructs, namely need for cognition, typical intellectual engagement, and openness for ideas, were investigated regarding discriminant validity. Based on two studies with 395 and 191 participants, no evidence of discriminant validity could be found. Especially, correlations within several measures of curiosity, interpreted as convergent validity, had mean correlations of .60 and .59 for the two studies, respectively. Correlations between curiosity measures and the related constructs need for cognition, typical intellectual engagement, and openness for ideas, interpreted as discriminant validity, were virtually identical (.59 and .57, respectively). Furthermore, exploratory factor analysis indicated that one factor explained the variance of the investigated constructs reasonably well. It is concluded that integrating the body of research that has been built around these constructs might stimulate future research on epistemic curiosity.

Introduction

Epistemic curiosity has been identified as a crucial variable in different areas and stages of life. Examples include the role of curiosity in facilitating cognitive development (Sternberg, 1994, Tamdogon, 2006), school and academic learning (Day, 1982), development of interpersonal closeness (Kashdan & Roberts, 2004), personal growth (Kashdan, Rose, & Fincham, 2004), and job performance (Mussel, 2010). Correspondingly, several attempts have been made in order to describe and explain the content and latent structure of the construct, its nomological net as well as underlying mechanisms (e.g. Litman, 2005). However, beyond the research that centered on curiosity, several constructs have been proposed that might be highly similar regarding construct domain, but have been investigated under different labels. Based on a review of the literature, three constructs were identified which exhibit highly similar definitions compared to definitions of curiosity, but were developed in different areas and on different theoretical positions: need for cognition (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982), typical intellectual engagement (Goff & Ackerman, 1992), and openness for ideas (Costa & McCrae, 1992). The purpose of the present study is to investigate whether these constructs exhibit sufficient discriminant validity in order to justify their coexistence under different labels. Therefore, based on two studies, discriminant validity was investigated in regard to four different measures of epistemic curiosity. Recent concepts of curiosity and their 63 measurement are briefly reviewed; subsequently, the aforementioned constructs are linked conceptually and empirically to curiosity.

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Epistemic curiosity (EC) can be defined as “desire for knowledge that motivates individuals to learn new ideas, eliminate information-gaps, and solve intellectual problems” (Litman, 2008; see Berlyne, 1960, Loewenstein, 1994). Based on Berlyne’s seminal work, two dimensions of epistemic curiosity can be distinguished which were labeled specific and diverse. Specific curiosity refers to the desire for certain pieces of information, and is initiated by so called collative variables, such as novelty, complexity, or ambiguity. Diverse curiosity was first described as being motivated by feelings of boredom or a desire for stimulus variation. In contrast to Berlyne’s focus on motivational states, Day (1969) rather considered diverse curiosity as individual difference in dispositional tendencies to engage in exploration. Consequently, diverse curiosity was regarded as desire for new, exciting or amusing stimuli (Day, 1971). Litman and Spielberger (2003) developed a measure of specific and diverse epistemic curiosity, finding the two dimensions highly correlated (.56). A second recently developed measure of epistemic curiosity is the Curiosity and Exploration Inventory (Kashdan et al., 2004), including two subscales that assess interest in exploration of new things and levels of absorption when engaged in curiosity (similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) concept of flow). Kashdan et al. found that both subscales of the Curiosity and Exploration Inventory correlated positively with other measures of trait curiosity (M r=.57).

In addition to diverse and specific curiosity, Litman and Jimerson (2004) recently introduced the dimension of curiosity as a feeling of deprivation. This dimension refers to rather unpleasant and aversive feelings of uncertainty which accompany curiosity, such as being annoyed at not knowing the answer to a question. As such, the affective tone differs from the rather positive connotations of specific and diverse curiosity, such as joy, interest, stimulation, or heightened arousal. Despite these conceptual differences, Litman and Silvia (2006) found measures of curiosity as a feeling of deprivation and of specific and diverse curiosity to be highly correlated (.62) and having salient loadings on the same factor when factor analyzed. Therefore, while recent refinements in conceptualization have improved theoretical understanding of the construct curiosity (e.g. Litman, 2005), these concepts still share large portions of variance, presumably due to a higher order factor they have in common. In sum, epistemic curiosity can be seen as a well defined construct, with a structure of highly correlated dimensions, for which validated measures have been developed.

Independently of these approaches and based on different theoretical background, a number of constructs have been proposed that share crucial aspects with epistemic curiosity regarding their content and definition. Three of these are need for cognition, typical intellectual engagement, and openness for ideas. Need for cognition was first introduced by Cacioppo and Petty (1982) and was defined as “an individual’s tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activity” (Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, & Jarvis, 1996, p. 197). Contrarily, people scoring low on need for cognition are viewed as cognitive misers. The construct was conceived as an intrinsic motivational tendency that develops in the course of involvements with cognitive endeavors. Concerning curiosity, need for cognition shares much of what Litman and Jimerson (2004) called curiosity as a feeling of interest, even though the focus is rather on thinking, problem solving or reasoning, compared to learning and obtaining new knowledge. A 34-item measure of need for cognition (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982) as well as an 18-item short form (Cacioppo, Petty, & Kao, 1984) was developed, that has been applied in hundreds of studies, mainly in social, personality, developmental, and cognitive psychology. Kashdan et al. found need for cognition to be positively correlated with epistemic curiosity, assessed with the Curiosity and Exploration Inventory (M r=.48). Similarly, Olson, Camp, and Fuller (1984) report positive correlations with trait curiosity of .68 as assessed via the Academic Curiosity Scale (Vidler & Rawan, 1974), of .55 with the Melbourne Trait Curiosity Scale (Naylor, 1981), and .67 with the Trait State Personality Inventory (Spielberger, 1979).

The construct typical intellectual engagement was proposed by Goff and Ackerman (1992). Defined as “personality construct that represents an individual’s aversion or attraction to tasks that are intellectually taxing” (Ackerman, Kanfer, & Goff, 1995, p. 276), it shares much of the problem solving and thinking activities with curiosity and need for cognition. However, its theoretical background is rather in research on intelligence. As such, typical intellectual engagement was distinguished from cognitive abilities in that it assesses typical, compared to maximum performance. Even though one of the sub-dimensions of typical intellectual engagement, namely reading (e.g. “I read a great deal” and “When I was a child I read every book in the house”, Ackerman & Goff, 1994, p. 151) taps into a slightly different direction, as it concerns very specific and observable behaviors (namely reading), compared to preferences and appraisals regarding thinking and learning, the overall score of the 59-item typical intellectual engagement scale (Goff & Ackerman, 1992) was found to be highly correlated with need for cognition (.78, Woo, Harms, & Kuncel, 2007).

Finally, the construct openness to experience, one factor in the five factor model of personality, which was developed on grounds of the lexical approach, has much in common with curiosity. Peterson and Seligman (2004) recently even equated curiosity with openness to experience. However, given the large heterogeneity of openness to experience (Digman, 1990), curiosity is rather reflected in aspects that have been described as inquiring intellect (Fiske, 1949), intelligence (Borgatta, 1964, Cattell, 1957), or intellectance (Hogan, 1986). Based on Costa and McCrae, 1985, Costa and McCrae, 1992, curiosity seems to be most closely associated with the facet openness to ideas, including aspects of being open minded, engaging in unconventional thoughts, and solving problems and thinking as an end in itself. Based on the eight item subscale of the NEO PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992), openness for ideas correlates positively with need for cognition (.78, Berzonsky & Sullivan, 1992). Even though not reporting results on a facet level, Kashdan et al. (2004) found positive correlations of openness to experience with epistemic curiosity (M r=.50). Similarly, Goff and Ackerman (1992) found a correlation of .65 between openness to experiences and typical intellectual engagement; based on construct validity evidence, Rocklin (1994) proposed that these two are essentially identical.

In light of these conceptual and empirical similarities, the purpose of the present study is to investigate whether the three constructs need for cognition, typical intellectual engagement, and openness for ideas possess discriminant validity to established constructs of curiosity, namely diverse and specific epistemic curiosity and curiosity as a feeling of deficit. Such evidence seems necessary in order to justify the use of different labels and, correspondingly, separate research accumulation and theory development. The present research extends previous correlational studies by using factor-analysis and computing convergent and discriminant validities. Therefore, in two studies, several different measures of curiosity were included together with the constructs discussed above. Regarding the factor-analytic approach, a prerequisite of discriminant validity would be that the factor structure across all variables would be characterized by more than one factor. Regarding convergent and discriminant validities, correlations between different measures of curiosity can be interpreted as convergent validity; in order to establish discriminant validity, correlations between measures of curiosity on one hand and measures of different constructs, namely need for cognition, typical intellectual engagement, and openness for ideas, on the other should be significantly lower, compared to convergent validities.

Section snippets

Sample

Data were collected on a total of 395 participants, who participated voluntarily in the present research. Participants were recruited by one of 40 peers as part of university course work in Germany. On average, participants were 30years old (SD=11.1, range:18–70), 51% were female. Regarding their education, the majority had a university-entrance diploma (82%), while some had secondary school (16%) as highest education. Only 5% had no prior job experience, 35% up to 2 years, 24% up to 5, and 31%

Results

Bivariate correlation between curiosity, need for cognition, and openness for ideas can be found in Table 1. Coefficients above the diagonal are adjusted for attenuation. As can be seen, all measures are positively correlated (M r=.60; adjusted r=.80). If correlations within the four curiosity scales are treated as convergent validities, and correlations between these four scales on one hand and the two scales need for cognition and openness for ideas on the other as discriminant validities,

Sample

Data were collected on a total of 191 participants, who participated voluntarily in the present research. Similar to Study 1, participants were recruited by one of 15 peers as part of university course work in Germany. On average, participants were 35years old (SD=11.7, range:20–67), 51% were female. Regarding their education, the majority had a university-entrance diploma (79%), 14% had secondary school as highest education. Participants had on average 10years of job experience (SD=8.8), only

Results

All correlation coefficients can be found in Table 1 (coefficients behind the slash are from Study 2). On average, the five scales assessing curiosity, need for cognition, and typical intellectual engagement correlated .58. Based on coefficients adjusted for attenuation, which can again be found above the diagonal, average correlations are .72. Analogous to Study 1, correlation coefficients were divided into convergent (i.e. within the three curiosity scales; .59) and discriminant (i.e. between

Discussion

The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether the three constructs need for cognition, typical intellectual engagement, and openness for ideas possess discriminant validity regarding several constructs from the curiosity domain. Based on convergent and discriminant validities, exploratory factor analysis, and construct validity, evidence of discriminant validity could not be established. Adjusted for attenuation, average correlations between several curiosity measures and measures

Acknowledgements

I wish to express my thanks to two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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