Book 252: Exploring the Psychology of Interest by Paul J. Silvia

Exploring the Psychology of Interest by Paul J. Silvia

Finished reading on January 7th, 2018

I happened across this book when, at one moment, I started to ponder the questions “What is interesting?” and “Why is this interesting?”

This book present the various ideas and theories about interest and interests. One of the main ideas in the book is that interest is an emotion; and another that interests are somehow more ingrained lasting attitudes towards some subjects or fields etc.

The first part of the book is about the emotion of interest, which is thought to arise from five characteristics of an object or situation etc:  novelty, challenge, attention demand, exploration intention, and instant enjoyment. Silvia references some studies where for example pictures or shapes of different levels of complexity are shown and subjects get to move on to a next one in a series when they don’t find it interesting anymore. More complex things are perceived as more interesting. While less complex ones are perceived as more enjoyable.

A part of this book deals with what makes a text interesting and whether readers pay more attention to interesting text. There appear to be different levels of engagement with the text that are dependent on whether the reader finds it interesting. An interested reader is more likely to put forth new ideas connected to the text than someone who didn’t find the text interesting. The less interested person would pay more attention to the text and it’s form, while the person who finds the text interesting might miss the form and focus on the ideas and meanings. Both would be able to remember the main ideas in the text, but the more interested person would be more likely to remember the order of the ideas.

Can it then be said that if something is interesting, it will be thought-provoking? I would like to think so.

A part of the book also presents various ideas on vocational interests and ideas about how we might attain them – not much appears to be known about it, but it seems to be easy enough to measure specific kinds of interests to at least try and suggest what kind of work situation might be a good fit for a person or their interests at any rate.

Now coming back to those questions that I was wondering about that led me to this book. Did I find out what and why is interesting? In a way maybe, but I’m not quite sure. So it’s a situation that is enjoyable (or makes you happy I guess?), but there’s uncertainty about whether or not you have all the relevant information about it, and you feel like the information can be obtained and understood.

Although at first I was slightly baffled by even just the notion of interest as an emotion, it does explain why in the case of 9 books out of 10 I want to say and write that “it was interesting”.

So when I feel like a concept cannot be understood, then I won’t find it interesting.

An interesting (here I go…) point was about appraising something as interesting (or scary or anything else) and misattributing it to a cause that might not be the real factor causing the feeling. But you can still think that it was the real cause.

Knowing this, it is easy to understand how a text or object can become fascinating when you find out more about the context (and it explains why I always thought that when I don’t find something interesting, it’s only because I don’t know enough about it, with the obvious exceptions of law, politics and economics which couldn’t possibly be interesting ).

Also we perceive something as interesting when it’s in a conflict of some kind with our ideas for example.

If interest really is an emotion, then I’d choose to be more interested over being happier any day… it’s much more interesting! 🙂