Curious George or Passionate Panda?

Defining Passion versus Curiosity

Everyone has heard the colloquialisms “Follow your passion,” or “pique someone’s curiosity.” However, what do these actually mean? What is the difference between someone’s passion and curiosity, and how can knowing the difference to be used to your advantage. All of this will be covered in this post.

Crash Course

The article this week is based deeply on philosophy. Therefore, it is more of a perspective piece and everyone will take away different things from this post.

Therefore, we will not have a crash course this time!

Definition of Passion

FYI, I completely made Passionate Panda up, I couldn’t think of a character to match Curious George.

Passion n. A strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.

  • Merriam Webster Dictionary

The word passion evokes a sense of drive and excitement. The word I am sure will conjure up images of what makes you excited and happy. Research has found that those who are passionate will devote more energy and resources to practicing their craft and receive more positive benefits from doing so (Vallerand, 2007). Practice, as we all know, is the key to excellence, and this feedback loop of receiving positive results from the continued practice and increased enthusiasm reinforces the behavior.

Put more simply, the more you practice the better you get, the better you get the more you enjoy what you are doing, and the more you want to devote to practicing. It was found that these people also experienced a greater sense of subjective well-being overall and were more likely to master whatever activity they were passionate about (Vallerand, 2007).

There is a plateau that is reached however if this passion becomes an obsession, which in this study they defined as “an unhealthy concentration and unbreakable fixation on the topic” there can be negative self-reported well-being.

Definition of Curiosity

Curiosity n. Desire to know; inquisitive interest in others’ concerns OR interest leading to inquiry.

  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Some of you may remember your kids or remember yourself watching the show Curious George, about a monkey that would go about creating mischief and exploring new things. For others, it elicits academic and intellectual energy. Whatever the case maybe it is important to be aware of how curiosity drives our behavior. Curiosity is the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowing. Some scientists define it as the thirst and pursuit of knowledge and then the quenching of that thirst once you have received an answer (Berlyne, 1954).

Do you follow your passion or curiosity?

Though we may say that passion and curiosity are two separate realms entirely, some research suggests that they are in fact correlated and connected to one another.

Should’ve Paid more Attention in Biology

A study conducted in 2018 looking at Nigerian undergraduate students in math courses, assessed the Science Curiosity Scale rating with a self-report survey and compared it to academic performance (Abakpa, 2018). They found that there was a weak negative relationship between the GPA of the students and their curiosity scores.

That ‘C’ in Calculus May have Helped You

A study, the following year found that teacher quality and support created an increased passion for learned topics in a school setting (Ruiz-Alfonso, 2019). In addition to this, with challenging growth-based learning, optimal arousal, and stress, the students performed better and foster a greater passion for the topics and this field their reported epistemic curiosity (Ruiz-Alfonso, 2019).

These students and what I shared may mean absolutely nothing to you, so let me explain. Those that had the right amount of teacher support, challenge, and feedback, were more likely to develop a passion for a learned topic. This passion increased their performance, and then, sparked more curiosity in that topic and other areas. Thinking anecdotally, this makes sense. If you are challenged just enough and encouraged to learn and better yourself by a teacher, in biology, for example, you will be more likely to want to learn more about that topic.

Compare this to chemistry where you may not understand it, the teacher may not support your learning and you feel constantly behind and confused. Well, that surely does not foster your desire to learn more, does it?

Connecting the Dots

The right amount of challenge, or arousal, as suggested by the Yerkes-Dodson Curve, aligned with feedback and a supportive environment can create the perfect recipe for learning success. So then you may ask what we do to follow our passion or our curiosity? Frankly, I think both are intertwined. your passion is something you are probably quite good at, and though it is great to choose to go into a field you are great at, you also want to expand your knowledge and challenge yourself.

So your curiosity can guide your future educational directions. I believe that there is no right or wrong answer for this, but it is important to acknowledge that we all have the expertise, and though it may be tempting to also do what we are only good at, it does not promote a growth mindset. A little bit of challenge will push us to get better, much like an upper weight in resistance training makes micro-tears in muscle so they can grow back bigger.

Keep this in mind when choosing a career or major. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone, take risks and accept when you have failures!


This post was a bit more theoretical than most other posts and did not have as much science in it. Let me know what you think, was there too little science, did you like the format, was it too ‘theoretical’ or ‘philosophical’? I am open to feedback. If you are excited to learn more about how to apply these concepts then you will write the next post about taking risks, failures, and success.

Share your feedback and comments in the section below. Or reach out to me over email if you would like to share your thoughts on this post and the blog as a whole. As always, stay curious out there!

Quote to Live By

“The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.”

–  Albert Einstein


Abakpa, B. O., Abah, J. A., & Agbo-Egwu, A. O. (2018). Science Curiosity as a Correlate of Academic Performance in Mathematics Education: Insights from Nigerian Higher Education. African Journal of Teacher Education, 7(1), Article 1.

Berlyne, D. E. (1954). An experimental study of human curiosity. British Journal of Psychology, 45(4), 256–265.

Ruiz-Alfonso, Z., & León, J. (2019). Teaching quality: Relationships between passion, deep strategy to learn, and epistemic curiosity. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 30(2), 212–230.

Vallerand, R. J., Salvy, S.-J., Mageau, G. A., Elliot, A. J., Denis, P. L., Grouzet, F. M. E., & Blanchard, C. (2007). On the Role of Passion in Performance. Journal of Personality, 75(3), 505–534.

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