Zeynep Üsüdür / Curiosity, attention, interest – what are the differences?

Intuitively there is a clear difference between attention, curiosity and interest. Still, I have managed to be very confused on the question of what the differences exactly are. Recently, I have been interested in Husserl’s descriptions of how we are affected and motivated towards what is given and pegiven. My interest in these aspects of Husserl’s writings (in particular Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis) stems from my discomfort with on the one hand a sharp distinction between sensory and conceptual curiosity in the existing literature and the other hand the tendency to require to much of curiosity (that it is directed towards something specific and is aware of some information, knowledge, or the like, that it lacks).

My intuition is that the fundamental structures of curiosity as a mental phenomenon should be able to condition both manifestations of curiosity in sensory (explorative) experiences and manifestations in higher order acts involving concepts, self-awareness, etc. If this is the case, and we think that curiosity is both affective and involves a special knowledge-interest, the question is whether we can find something like a link between interest/motivation and knowledge at a very fundamental level. And this is why I have been looking into questions of how we are affected to turn toward what is pregiven/given in the first place.    So my problem, at this stage of my Ph.D.-project, is whether an understanding of curiosity as an affective phenomenon involving a cognitive interest of some sort must be thought of as an egoic activity or whether the most fundamental passive structures of givenness is enough to explain curiosity.

A second problem arising from these considerations is how to distinguish between attention, curiosity and interest. Attention and various form of attentiveness already require the subject to turn towards affective alluring tendencies, which can take place at different levels of attentiveness – from the most passive structures of attentiveness towards the pregiven, to receptivity and higher order attentiveness, which also include cognitive interest (cf. Steinbock (2004). In this picture attention is not just a passive noticing of something, but rather motivational and interested and it shows structures that very much resembles structures normally associated with curiosity. My inclination is to say that the knowledge-interest in curiosity must be thematic in the case of curiosity, as an interest given for the subject, while this is not the case for attention and interest. But then again, this does not seem to be the case for explorative behavior.

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