KSAOs/Individual Differences

Curiosity Adapted the Cat

Most employees do not stay at the same job their entire career. As such, managers often find themselves overseeing the adaptations that employees make when starting a new job.  Newcomer adaptation, the time during which a new employee is trying to adapt to an organization, is influenced by the employee’s level of curiosity.  Curiosity is defined as the desire for new information that leads to inquisitive and exploratory behaviors.  Individuals who are curious like to explore and experiment to draw on a variety of experiences to make sense of one’s situation.  As a manager, by knowing about a newcomer’s type of curiosity, you can do more to ensure retention. 

Types of Curiosity

Two types of curiosity, specific and diversive, have been linked to adaptive behaviors in employees which will be explained further.
  • Specific curiosity: Experienced as motivation to seek a new distinct piece of information in narrow and direct ways. An employee with specific curiosity might enjoy refining and extending information that already exists.
  • Diversive curiosity: Experienced as a desire to explore that can be satisfied by a diverse range of data in broad and indirect ways. An employee with diversive curiosity might enjoy coming up with novel approaches to reach maximum performance levels.

How is Curiosity Related to Adaptation on the Job?

Specific and diversive curiosity are each related to different actions of a newcomer on the job.  First, a newcomer who exhibits the narrowly focused, specific curiosity, is more likely to actively seek information to fill in the gaps in his or her knowledge.  Second, a newcomer with the broadly based diversive style of curiosity is more likely to positively frame the workplace.  This means that while they are adapting, they are prone to view situations in a positive light.  This positive framing of a situation improves motivation for doing a job which also improves performance on the job.  The motivation an employee feels on the job will increase the retention rate.  If an employee is not curious and does not feel excited about the job they are performing, they are more likely to leave the organization. Curiosity motivates newcomer adaptation and the different forms of curiosity spark and speed up adaptive behaviors.  Newcomers will explore in different ways.  Specifically, those with specific curiosity will look for details and distinct cues while those with diversive curiosity will look for new ways of framing a situation.

Practical Implications

This information can prove useful because individuals are likely to be a “newcomer” to different organizations multiple times in their lives, so every organization and manager will inevitably be dealing with newcomers.  More specifically, it is important to learn more about how individuals adapt in new situations, as it is increasingly becoming the responsibility of the newcomer who may not know how to handle it.  An educated manager may be able to provide the guidance necessary for adaptation. Given the relationship between adaptation and curiosity, managers should look into ways to spark this curiosity.  This curiosity, as discussed above, leads to motivation which is related to lower employee turnover for the organization.

Ashley Niemczyk


This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Harrison, S.H., Sluss, D.M., & Ashforth, B.E. (2011). Curiosity adapted the cat: The role of trait curiosity in newcomer adaptation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(1), 211-220.