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Research Scholars


Dr Arjun Shankar
Center for Curiosity Fellow, Postdoctoral Fellow
School of Social Policy and Practice
University of Pennsylvania

Arjun Shankar graduated from Penn in Anthropology and Education, and does work in globalization/urbanization, participatory film, and critical pedagogy. As a “Curiosity Postdoctoral Fellow” he is currently working on a number of interrelated ideas, including:

Finding measures for curiosity

Shankar seeks to bring together methods from anthropology, psychology, and bioengineering to develop a set of instruments that will allow researchers to identify and assess how and when curiosity is occuring within specific social contexts.

Developing an anthropological theory of curiosity

Shankar is exploring such questions as: What are the particularities of social life that shape, enable, or constrain both who can be curious and what we make the objects of our curiosity? How might curiosity be framed within broader social, political, and economic processes? What are observable markers of curiosity that ethnographers might use to make curiosity a focus of their work?

Conducting an ethnography of mental health and its relation to curiosity in the university

Shankar seeks to assess  the particular social factors that contribute to the increased mental health concerns of students. In particular, Shankar is interested in assessing the relationship, if any, between mental health and how students’ define educational success. Are students who see education and learning as instrumental, and make choices based on future goals rather than present curiosity, more likely to see a decrease in mental wellness?

Creating pedagogical tools that facilitate curiosity in K-12 classrooms

Shakar is looking to find ways to create learning environments that will facilitate students’ curiosity. Over the past two years, he has been collaboratively developing a framework for curiosity in classrooms founded upon theories of growth mindset, inquiry-based learning, and audiovisual techniques.



Perry Zurn
Center for Curiosity Fellow, Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Pennsylvania

Perry Zurn is a postdoctoral fellow for the Center for Curiosity at the University of Pennsylvania (2016-2017). He received his PhD from DePaul University in philosophy. Zurn researches in curiosity studies, applied ethics (esp. research ethics), political philosophy, philosophies of punishment, and gender theory. His book project, Curiosity: Philosophy and the Politics of Difference, investigates the political stakes of curiosity both as a method of inquiry and a social practice. He is the co-editor of Active Intolerance (Palgrave, 2015) and Intolerable (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming), and his essays have appeared in journals like philoSOPHIARadical Philosophy Review, and Zetesis. His interdisciplinary projects include collaborations in neuroscience, psychology, and political theory. Zurn is also involved in a number of diversity initiatives in higher education, which aim to shift the demographics of curiosity-practitioners.



Jordan Litman
Center for Curiosity, Research Fellow
Independent Researcher

Jordan Litman is research fellow with the Center for Curiosity (2017-2018). Jordan received his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of South Florida. His major domains of expertise are psychometrics, quasi-experimental design and the use of multivariate statistical methods, such as exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis and path analysis. He is also an expert in the development, validation, and application of psychological measures. Jordan’s research has focused primarily on the nature, dimensionality and assessment of individual differences in different aspects of trait-curiosity especially epistemic curiosity, which is critical to self-directed learning and intellectual growth.

Jordan’s study of curiosity is interdisciplinary in nature, considering the roles played by personality, memory, brain activity and affective experience in the activation and satiation of curiosity. His research has examined relationships between levels of trait-curiosity, the activation of emotional-motivational curiosity states, setting learning-goals, and attaining varying levels of achievement in academic and workplace settings.

Jordan is adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Maine at Machias and a Visiting Research Scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, where he is working on developing new methods of investigating the interface between state and trait epistemic curiosity, critical thinking, and reasoning.