Curiosity is vital to academic success

Curiosity plays a big part in academic achievement and is a trait that students will find beneficial during their time in higher education. This is the suggestion of new findings published in Perspectives in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which found such a characteristic can be as important as intelligence when determining how well a scholar performs.

According to researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland and Goldsmiths University of London, being clever is not the overriding factor when it comes to undergraduate achievement.

Sophie von Stumm of the University of Edinburgh - which claims its mission is the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge - described curiosity as a hunger for exploration, adding: "If you're intellectually curious, you'll go home, you'll read the books. If you're perceptually curious, you might go travelling to foreign countries and try different foods."

Both of these traits can prove advantageous in the world of higher education, Ms von Stumm added.

Dr Mark Parkinson, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "We know from many years of research that when it comes to work performance the most predictive of the Big Five personality factors is consciousness. 

"That this is also linked to academic achievement is exactly what you would expect. More intriguing is the link with curiosity, although this is an attribute that creativity researchers, for example, would endorse as being important in exploring beyond the obvious. 

"And of course it may well be related to superior academic performance and indeed could be just as important as intelligence. 

"However, these findings are based on a meta-analysis of 200 separate studies and so the usual health warnings apply, for instance that it's difficult to incorporate studies that return non-significant results as these are not usually reported in journals. 

"What of those that did not suggest a link between curiosity and performance? Also, perhaps what is curious is that it's possible to identify so many studies that include measures of curiosity.

"This is a nebulous concept at best - or are the authors actually talking about Openness to Experience? i.e. another of the Big Five factors. So like any meta-analytic study it's necessary to understand the definition and then to check whether the various strands of research are all focused on the same attribute.

"Thus it's not just a question of having multiple studies to analyse, covering many thousands of students, but to be able to establish real consistency across studies."