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Blue-sky research

An experiment in curiosity

In addition to our project based research, EBD undertakes blue sky experiments, with potentially significant applications. Dark Matter was one such experiment, undertaken at the Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design gallery at Monash University. Our aim was to find an expression for the half-formed, to provoke visitor curiosity and study the outcomes.

The degree to which we are absorbed in any event is directly related to the degree of interest it holds for us. Interest is experienced as a result of novelty whereas enjoyment is experienced as a result of familiarity. For example, ratings of interest have been found to be unrelated to ratings of enjoyment, when responding to art.

Interest has also been found to predict exploratory action in terms of retail behaviour, wayfinding etc. Research on the emotion of curiosity helps to explain how a tendency to become absorbed in novel and challenging situations, might promote recognisable movement and engagement patterns. Such patterns can become legible as a set of specific, causal responses to environmental stimuli.

From a design perspective, the fact that novelty stimulates curiosity is by no means surprising (to say the least), but the argument that high levels of trait curiosity are required in order for people to seek out novelty–well that raises many questions. What percentage of a given population are considered to be high in trait curiosity? Does an individual’s level of trait and state curiosity not vary, depending on the nature of a given stimulus? The Dark Matter Experiment helped us to answer those questions.