From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Curiosity (from Latin curiosus "careful, diligent, curious," akin to cura "care") is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning, evident by observation in human and many animal species. The term can also be used to denote the behavior itself being caused by the emotion of curiosity. As this emotion represents a thirst for knowledge, curiosity is a major driving force behind scientific research and other disciplines of human study.
Although curiosity is an innate capability of many living beings, it should not be categorized as an instinct because it is not a fixed action pattern; rather it is an innate basic emotion because while curiosity can be expressed in many ways, the expression of an instinct is typically more fixed and less flexible. Curiosity is common to human beings at all ages from infancy to old age, and is easy to observe in many other animal species. These include apes, cats, fish, reptiles, and insects; as well as many others. Many aspects of exploration are shared among all beings, as all known terrestrial beings share similar aspects: limited size and a need to seek out food sources.
Strong curiosity is the main motivation of many scientists. In fact, in its development as wonder or admiration, it is generally curiosity that makes a human being want to become an expert in a field of knowledge. Though humans are sometimes considered particularly curious, they sometimes seem to miss the obvious when compared to other animals. What seems to happen is that human curiosity about curiosity itself (i.e. meta-curiosity or meta-interest), combined with the ability to think in an abstract way, lead to mimesis, fantasy and imagination - eventually leading to an especially human way of thinking ("human reason"), which is abstract and self-aware, or conscious. Some people have the feeling of curiosity to know what is after death.
The degree to which a person says that they have curiosity about trivia questions links to activity in both in the Broca's area in their left inferior frontal gyrus, and the putamen in their basal ganglia. This suggests people that are curious activate both parts of their brain that comprehend and anticipates information, and those in which such information acts as a secondary reinforcer or reward. Curiosity also increased activity in memory areas such as the hippocampus when subjects guessed trivia questions incorrectly and this suggests that it might act to enhance a person's long term memory for surprising new information. Such activation linked to curiosity predicted better recall of surprising answers one or two weeks later. Dopamine receptors in part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus contribute to the generation of curiosity in mice. These receptors are also important for plasticity and learning and therefore are proposed to represent a molecular link between intelligence and curiosity.
A morbid curiosity is an example of addictive curiosity the object of which is death, violence, or any other event that may hurt you physically or emotionally (see also: snuff film), the addictive emotion being explainable by meta-emotions exercising pressure on the spontaneous curiosity itself. According to Aristotle, in his Poetics we even "enjoy contemplating the most precise images of things whose sight is painful to us." (This aspect of our nature is often referred to as the 'Car Crash Syndrome' or 'Trainwreck Syndrome', derived from the notorious supposed inability of passersby to ignore such accidents.)