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Curious People Are Likely to Have Better Relationships

Studies show that curious people are less aggressive.

Key points

  • Curiosity in another person and in ourself lends itself to greater emotional intimacy.
  • Studies have shown that lower curiosity and higher aggression were the strongest in new and ongoing intimate relationships.
  • Highly curious people showed the greatest sensitivity in the interpersonal realm.
 ethan sees/Pexels
Source: ethan sees/Pexels

Although research on the social consequences of curiosity is slim, the existing studies do help us to understand an important finding—that curious people are less aggressive. What could help us to prevent ending up in a coercive relationship just might be the capacity for curiosity in the other person and also in ourselves. Whether looking for an intimate partner or trying to improve an existing relationship, curiosity just might hold the key to success.

Curiosity in Interpersonal Relationships

Curiosity shows an inclination to seek out new information because of an intrinsic interest in learning new knowledge. In the interpersonal realm, curiosity is listening because of an interest in learning about the other person. To fully listen is not thinking about what we want to say next but showing interest in the other person reflected by the questions we ask. Open-ended questions in particular invite more information about beliefs, perceptions, and feelings that can forge greater intimacy. In this give-and-take context, a more balanced relationship develops in which we can feel seen for who we are, feel freer to share more, and have an experience of mutual respect and better tools to resolve conflict.

In four cross-sectional studies, Kashdan and colleagues tested the hypothesis that “individual differences in curiosity are linked to less aggression, even when people are provoked.” In their results, they showed the following:

  • Daily curiosity predicted less aggression with no evidence for the reverse direction.
  • Lower curiosity and higher aggression were strongest in intimate relationships and in beginning romantic relationships.
  • Highly curious people showed greater sensitivity in the relational context.

They concluded, “Curiosity is a neglected mechanism of resilience in understanding aggression” (Kashdan et al. 2013).

Curiosity Versus Aggression in Interpersonal Relationships

Without curiosity to learn about another person, there may be a high need to control the relationship. This is seen in intimate partner abuse that entails emotional and psychological coercion for one partner to slowly gain power over the other. This means that one partner’s focus is on acquiring the other person’s complacency through intimidation and degradation—not about what the other might want, need, or feel about a situation. When the latter at the start of the relationship may have been more apparent, as time goes on, there’s less interest in what’s important to the other person, and the early sharing of intimate information can eventually be used in the service of manipulation to control them.

Self-Curiosity as a Life Saver

Women who end up with a coercive partner address the common experience of eventually losing trust in their own perception, with many saying they lost parts of themselves or their own identity—who they were. Slowly and insidiously, they feel taken over by their intimate partner and lose sight of their beliefs and feelings. This often occurs when the emotional pain gets suppressed—there's no safe place to express it—and they end up in a state of "freeze" where they become detached from their feelings. This is when it’s very difficult to fully realize the danger they are in—something is wrong; I feel bad—that lets them know they need to take steps to protect themselves. This is where self-curiosity becomes important.

As you experience an intimate partner early on, it’s when emotions are more likely to be felt and decisions about continuing the relationship occur. This is the time to not ignore or take lightly your feelings but to pay attention and be curious. If you feel uneasy, ask yourself, “What just occurred?” Or, identify that you’re feeling anxious: What’s that about? What scared me? What caused me to feel shame? Am I sad? Why do I feel hurt? What happened? The more tuned in you are to your internal responses to interactions with a date or intimate partner, the best position you are in to protect yourself when you feel that something is off, not respectful, unfair, insensitive, mean, etc.

If you can identify an inner reaction and the behavior you experienced that is making you feel that way, you’ll be in the best position to address it with the other person. This is when you learn their capacity to be curious about your feelings and reactions, and also whether they’re open to looking at their own behavior—perhaps curious about themself. Taking responsibility for oneself and owning up to being wrong or hurting another is more likely to occur when you’re with someone who is also curious about how you feel because it matters to them. This is when emotional intimacy can thrive.



Kashdan, T.B., DeWall, C.N., Pond, R.S., Silvia, P.J., Lambert, N.M., Fincham, F.D., Savostyanova, A.A., Keller, P.S. 2013. “Curiosity protects against interpersonal aggression: cross-sectional, daily process, and behavioral evidence.” Journal of Personality, Vol.81(1):87-102.

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