Psychology professor Todd Kashdan calls curiosity the "secret juice of relationships," and he would know. Not only has the George Mason University professor studied how inquisitiveness informs our bonds and affects our health, he's written a book on the subject.
Kashdan has found that this character trait, long understood to be beneficial — curious people tend to have better memories, learn faster and are more intelligent — also has positive effects on relationships. And it's especially good when meeting new people.
Curious people bond faster and make better first impressions, according to a variety of research. In three connected tests headed by Kashdan, scientists "examined whether, when, and how curiosity contributes to positive social outcomes between unacquainted strangers." While each test looked at a different aspect of the question, they all came to a similar conclusion. Curious people were better connectors, as long as the conversation was intimate, and not just small-talk.
The tests were arranged conversations between random college students and people working in Kashdan's lab, though the people being tested didn't know the person they were talking to wasn't a subject of the experiment (as they were). Post-conversation, the subjects who scored the highest in connection and closeness ratings were those who showed the most curiosity.
Interestingly, those people with the highest curiosity marks were also the best at determining how well they came across. That's been proven in other studies too. In one by researchers at the University of Konstanz in Germany, curious people were better able to evaluate the person they were speaking to: "182 individuals who never met each other before were asked to interact for 10 minutes and afterwards to evaluate the personality (Big Five) of their interaction partner. High socially curious judges were more accurate in evaluating the degree of Extraversion and Openness of their interaction partners."
If you're dating, being curious means the person you're with will more likely feel a connection with you — and you'll have a solid idea of the impression you've made. (No guarantees that you'll get a call the next day, though, regardless of how well you thought the date went!)
It's easy to understand why:
“When you show curiosity and you ask questions, and find out something interesting about another person, people disclose more, share more, and they return the favor, asking questions of you,” Kashdan told the Greater Good Science Center. “It sets up a spiral of give and take, which fosters intimacy.”
Once you're in a relationship, curiosity can keep things going. Research has shown that most couples break up not due to conflict, but because they're bored with one another. Couples who engage in fun, interesting activities are more likely to stay together, so those who are curious are more likely to stay bonded. There's always something interesting to do.
If you're not naturally curious, you can still reap the benefits of being a curious person through practice. How? By imitation — doing the things that inquisitive people do:
1. Ask open-ended questions: “If you can pop out the open-ended question, the person often gets so excited and reveals so much more that you end up getting interested naturally,” Kashdan says.
2. Listen carefully and keep what the person has said in mind when you are asking new questions.
3. Show you are genuinely interested in what the person is saying. If they are being humorous, laugh; if they are conveying something sad, offer your condolences. Keep eye contact and lean toward them — think about what it looks like when someone is interested and engaged, and move in that way.
4. Ask follow-up questions; whether that's job, family, feelings about a favorite TV show, whatever.
If, after all of that, you get dumped? Well, turns out that curiosity helps there, too, creating a buffer effect. The title of a Japanese study says it all: "Curious People Are Less Affected by Social Rejection."