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Increased curiosity is the ‘silver lining’ of a quarter life and midlife crisis

An increased curiosity about others and the wider world could be the ‘silver lining’ of undergoing a quarter life crisis or midlife crisis.

This is the finding of a study by Dr Oliver Robinson and James Demetre of the University of Greenwich and Jordan Litman of the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, Florida that is presented today, Thursday 28 April 2016, at the British Psychological Society’s 2016 annual conference in Nottingham. The study was funded by Springer Nature.

Dr Robinson said: “Our previous research using interviews shows it can be common for someone to undergo a period of emotional difficulty and instability which leads them to be more curious than usual about who they are and what their place in the world is. In this study we wanted to explore this using a large-scale survey, and see whether our curiosity systematically increases as a consequence of a personal life crisis in adulthood.”

Over 900 participants (aged 20 and over, 425 male, 538 female) undertook questionnaires rating their curiosity of themselves, others and the wider world. They also rated their own feelings of currently undergoing a life crisis by agreeing or disagreeing with a statement. This asked whether they are currently going through an emotionally volatile time of change that has lasted at least a year and has at times overwhelmed their capacity to cope.

Overall middle-aged participants were more likely to say they were in a period of crisis (24 per cent) compared to younger adults (22 per cent) and older adults (14 per cent). Analysis of the results showed that, for both quarter life crisis and midlife crisis, individuals were more curious about themselves and the wider world than those who were not in crisis.

Dr Robinson said: “While crisis episodes bring distress and feelings of uncertainty, they also bring openness to new ideas and stimuli that can bring insight and creative solutions, which can move our development forward. This enhanced curiosity may be the ‘silver lining’ of crisis. Armed with this knowledge people may find the crises of adult life easier to bear.”