The influence of captive environments and human exposure on cognitive mechanisms in animals remain poorly understood. Although diminished neophobia, resulting from a safer environment and more “free” time, has been proposed to cause intraspecific differences between wild and captive individuals, we know less about how human exposure influences exploration tendency. In this study, we refer to the combination of reduced neophobia and increased interest in exploring novelty as “curiosity”, which we systematically compared across seven groups of captive and wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) by exposing them to a test battery of eight novel stimuli. In the wild sample, we included both monkeys habituated to human presence and unhabituated individuals filmed using motion triggered video cameras. Results revealed clear differences in willingness to approach novel artefacts and food items among captive, wild habituated and wild unhabituated monkeys. As foraging pressure and predation risks are assumed to be equal for all wild monkeys, our results do not support a relationship between curiosity and safety or free time. Instead, we propose “the habituation hypothesis” as an explanation of why well-habituated and captive monkeys both approached and explored novelty more than unhabituated individuals. We conclude that varying levels of human and/or human artefact habituation, rather than the risks present in natural environments, better explain variation in curiosity in our sample of vervet monkeys.