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Openness or openness to experience is one of the five personality traits from the Big Five personality traits. It is used to describe one aspect of human personality, which is characterized by receptivity to new experiences and ideas. It is an indication of how open-minded one person is.

What Is Openness To Experience?

It is a basic personality trait of a person. It denotes how much an individual is receptive or open to new ideas or things. An individual with a high degree of it will usually enjoy trying new things and experiences in their life. They tend to be open-minded, imaginative and curious. They are more willing to embrace new ideas and novel experiences than other people. They have a curious mindset and try to pursue new creative endeavors and adventures. An open-minded person is also good at establishing connections between various ideas and concepts. People who have low levels of openness tend to be closed-minded. They prefer familiar experiences and situations. They would stick to one routine and follow it, rather than exploring new alternatives or opportunities. They approach each new thing in their life with caution and seek out consistency, over change.

Out of the Five Big Personality traits 1 identified in humans, openness is one of them. According to a study, the Five Factor Model (FFM) of general personality structure includes the following major domains –

  • Neuroticism (nervous or emotional instability vs. confident or stability)
  • Extraversion (energetic or outgoing vs. solitary or introversion)
  • Openness (curious, inquisitive or unconventionality)
  • Agreeableness (compassionate or friendly vs. critical or antagonism)
  • Conscientiousness (organized or constraint vs. careless or disinhibition)

Out of this, openness is the measure of how receptive or open-minded a person is. A study 2 defines it as “involving aesthetic sensitivity, awareness of one’s emotions, preference for novelty, intellectual curiosity, and a leaning toward nontraditional values.” However, it is not a measure of how well a person interacts with another person. It refers to the experiential or intellectual open mindedness of a person.

Read More To Know Here: Big Five Personality Traits

Facets Of Openness

Facets Of Openness

In a clinical study 3 it has been described having six dimensions, or facets. The study states that there are six subscales to which an individual might be open or closed. These are mentioned below:

1. Openness to action

This means a person enjoys active participation in various events and enjoys new experiences. A 1980 study 4 stated that it is the “psychological aspect of a person’s motivation to participate in something new and complex.” This can be because people who have a high degree of it choose behavior which makes them happy; in this case seeking new experiences and actions.

2. Openness to ideas

This facet of openness corresponds with the cognitive functioning of individuals. A 2005 study 5 stated that “People with high rates of openness to ideas show greater flexibility in “information processing and environmental research.” They show a greater inclination to engage in activities which seem to increase their knowledge and understanding.

3. Openness to values

This facet corresponds to the degree of susceptibility of a person to change. People who have a high degree of this facet will usually reject traditions and norms. A 2019 study also found out that people who have low degrees of it are more likely to get aggressive and authoritarian by nature.

4. Openness to aesthetics

This facet refers to the ability of a person to evaluate various types of art. Openness to aesthetics have also shown a positive relation between intelligence and cognitive flexibility. A study found out that people who have high degrees of it are also more creative in nature.

5. Openness of fantasy

This corresponds to an individual’s emotional predisposition. It showcases a high level of creativity along with a developed picture of thinking. Studies 6 have shown that people who are low in this facet also tend to suffer from depression more than other people.

6. Openness to feelings

This facet is the ability to understand and interpret emotions. People who have a high degree of it are more sensitive to emotional events and can perceive emotions more strongly than others. Studies 7 have also shown that people who tend to be open to feelings are happier in their old age than others.

What It Means To Be An Open-minded Person

An open-minded person will enthusiastically seek out new experiences and creative dimensions. They will have a thirst for curiosity and a hunger for knowledge and information. Individuals who are open-minded tend to be abstract and divergent 8 thinkers. They are more humble intellectually and less dogmatic. They do not hold on to their beliefs strongly and always explore opportunities and alternatives outside of their current knowledge and understanding. They are open to exploring different places and do not shy away from meeting strangers. They can manifest multiple solutions in case a problem arises. Openness has also been linked to high levels of intellect. According to a 2011 research paper, it is shown to be related to intellect. The study says that “Openness/Intellect reflects imagination, creativity, intellectual curiosity, and appreciation of esthetic experiences. Broadly, Openness/Intellect relates to the ability and interest in attending to and processing complex stimuli.”

Traits Of An Open-minded Person

Traits Of An Open-minded Person

Open-minded people tend to possess certain traits that influence their thoughts, behaviors and actions. They usually tend to be:

1. Creative and artistic

An open-minded person will use their skills to come up with significantly new ideas. A study from Columbia University found that open-mindedness correlates with creativity. The study stated that open-minded people are more likely to be creative than closed-minded people.

2. Intelligent

Numerous studies have shown that openness corresponds to intellect or intelligence. This has been backed by numerous studies 9 which tried to establish a relationship between open mindedness and human intellect.

3. Adventurous and open to new experiences

Open-minded people are more likely to engage in adventurous activities. They are more daring by nature. It has been observed that this might be due to an increase in the dopamine 10 levels of open-minded individuals. This might explain why open-minded people get satisfaction from novel events, people and places. The study concludes that “while dopamine release is often associated with the brain’s reward system, mounting evidence suggests that dopamine release might be linked more specifically to the rewarding aspects of novelty.”

4. Liberal and diverse

According to a study, openness is related to enhanced cognitive functions in individuals. This explains why open-minded people are likely to be liberal in nature. They tend to value diversity more than anything else and their outlook would also be the same. Another research showed people who are open-minded are more likely to express their personal political views and endorse liberalism.

Open-minded people are also more susceptible to day dreams. They correlate to another trait in psychology known as absorption. A 1991 study 11 found that “absorption, a correlate of hypnotizability, is conceptually related to openness to experience.” Absorption is a psychological theory where people tend to get lost in their thoughts or daydreams. They are also more susceptible to hypnosis. Research 12 also reveals that open-minded people are also more susceptible to hypnosis.

Psychological Theories On Openness

There exists a few psychological theories on this topic. One 2010 study 13 theorized that it has been linked to “intelligence and divergent thinking.” The study stated that openness in individuals depends on the dopamine function in the prefrontal cortex. The study also found out that “Openness is more closely associated with the acquisition of broad verbal intellectual skills and knowledge than with executive abilities localized to a specific brain region or neurotransmitter system.” This essentially means that open-minded people perform well in subjects where they had past experience and knowledge. They are more likely to place themselves in situations where they can gain more knowledge.

A 2010 neurobiological study linked to personality suggests that openness is a result of our brain’s cognitive function and reasoning and also allows for the secretion of dopamine in our blood. Open-minded individuals have a tendency to seek out novel experiences and situations. This corresponds to dopamine getting secreted. This works in a manner where the individuals end up feeling rewarded due to the dopamine secretion and thus, have more tendencies to be open-minded in the future.

Causes Of Openness

Significant research has not been conducted on the causes of open-mindedness in an individual. However, studies seem to suggest that it is caused by both experience and genetics, backed by a 2013 study 14 in psychology called the “nature or nurture debate”. This debate suggests that psychological tendencies like openness can be caused due to hereditary factors or even experience and environmental factors of a person. Thus, a person can be open-minded if one of their parents were the same. Also, factors like experience with situations and people, and their surroundings can also have a big role to play in a person being open-minded. A study 15 done on the Five Factor Personality traits discovered that genetics accounted for 40%-60% of openness in an individual. This might suggest that openness in a person is greatly influenced by genetic factors.

Openness And Intelligence

Open-minded individuals have also scored high on IQ tests. One study suggests that it “reflects the expression of intelligence in personality.” Another study 16 found out that “Openness to Experience and Intellect differentially predicted creative achievement in the arts and sciences, respectively.” Thus, open-minded people are more likely to be intelligent than other closed-minded people. One 1997 study found that open-mindedness in a person might also reflect the “expression of intelligence in personality.” Further studies have tried to examine the relation between openness and cognitive functions.

Highly open people might be inclined towards creativity and novel experiences, just for the pleasure they derive from them. In another study 17 corresponding with the Five Personality traits, Open-mindedness and intellect were put in the same category, meaning they represented one another. A study 18 tried to find the relationship between openness and intelligence and creative thinking. The findings detailed “significant positive relationships among openness to experience, intelligence and creative thinking” The study also categorizes openness and intellect into a single main broad factor, which is called Openness/Intellect. Thus, all these studies prove that the more open-minded a person is, the more intelligent he/she will be.

How To Be More Open

Open-mindedness is seen as a desirable trait by most people. Having an open mind allows you to be receptive to new and different ideas, information. Open-minded people also analyze information in a way where they explore all possibilities and causes. Many high paying jobs in the world value open-mindedness and quantify it as a necessary ability which enables a person to think rationally and critically. Although most people can attribute their personality to genetics, there are ways in which we can train our mind to be more receptive. Some of these may include the following:

1. Learn to combat confirmation bias

Studies 19 have shown that confirmation bias in individuals is one of the main reasons for closed-mindedness. This means paying more attention to the things we believe in and disregarding evidence about the things we do not. The first step here is to recognize that you indeed are biased in your thoughts. Then you can slowly start to evaluate more information, keeping in mind there can be endless possibilities.

2. Focus on your feelings

It is easy for us to share what we are thinking or feeling. Thus, this can be a good way to practice being open to others. Try to take notice of your feelings and share them with other people. If we understand where our different emotions come from and can convey the same about them, then we are teaching our mind to be more open around others.

3. Start asking more questions

Asking questions to not only others but also yourself helps to improve and open your mind. When you start asking questions about the information you already know, you tend to increase your broad mindedness. You try to understand your beliefs and question their sources, ideas and topics.

4. Try communicating in first person

Instead of using “you” in a sentence, you can try to use “I”. When you switch to first person, you are making yourself the main subject of the conversation. In this way you are letting people know of your thoughts and what you are trying to mean. This can be a good way to start practising for open-mindedness.

Openness: Key Takeaway

Open-mindedness is one of the most important traits in people which account for why we are different from one another. It is also viewed as a desirable trait, most people would affirm a positive belief for it. It can play a big role in different parts of your life like your career, political views, attitude towards others, among many. However, openness is just one out of many personality traits we have. Thus, you should not let a single aspect shape your life.

Openness At A Glance

  1. Openness or openness to experience is one of the five personality traits from the Big Five personality traits.
  2. Openness is the measure of how receptive or open-minded a person is.
  3. Open-minded individuals have also scored high on IQ tests
  4. Open mindedness is one of the most important traits in people which account for why we are different from one another.
👇 References:
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  2. Schretlen, D. J., van der Hulst, E. J., Pearlson, G. D., & Gordon, B. (2010). A neuropsychological study of personality: trait openness in relation to intelligence, fluency, and executive functioning. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 32(10), 1068–1073. []
  3. SV, N. (2019). Six aspects of openness to experience. MedCrave online | Online Publishing Library | Online Journal Publishing Groups. []
  4. Costa PT Jr, McCrae RR. Influence of extraversion and neuroticism on subjective well-being: happy and unhappy people. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1980 Apr;38(4):668-78. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.38.4.668. PMID: 7381680. []
  5. DeYoung, C. G., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2005). Sources of openness/intellect: cognitive and neuropsychological correlates of the fifth factor of personality. Journal of personality, 73(4), 825–858. []
  6. Wolfestein, M., & Trull, T. J. (1997). Depression and openness to experience. Journal of Personality Assessment, 69(3), 614-632. []
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  8. Schretlen, D. J., van der Hulst, E. J., Pearlson, G. D., & Gordon, B. (2010). A neuropsychological study of personality: trait openness in relation to intelligence, fluency, and executive functioning. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 32(10), 1068–1073. []
  9. DeYoung, C. G., Quilty, L. C., Peterson, J. B., & Gray, J. R. (2014). Openness to experience, intellect, and cognitive ability. Journal of personality assessment, 96(1), 46–52. []
  10. Schretlen, D. J., van der Hulst, E. J., Pearlson, G. D., & Gordon, B. (2010). A neuropsychological study of personality: trait openness in relation to intelligence, fluency, and executive functioning. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 32(10), 1068–1073. []
  11. Glisky, M. L., Tataryn, D. J., Tobias, B. A., Kihlstrom, J. F., & McConkey, K. M. (1991). Absorption, openness to experience, and hypnotizability. Journal of personality and social psychology, 60(2), 263–272. []
  12. Zhang, Y., Wang, Y., Shen, C., Ye, Y., Shen, S., Zhang, B., Wang, J., Chen, W., & Wang, W. (2017). Relationship between hypnosis and personality trait in participants with high or low hypnotic susceptibility. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 13, 1007-1012. []
  13. Schretlen, D. J., van der Hulst, E. J., Pearlson, G. D., & Gordon, B. (2010). A neuropsychological study of personality: trait openness in relation to intelligence, fluency, and executive functioning. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 32(10), 1068–1073. []
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  15. Power, R., Pluess, M. Heritability estimates of the Big Five personality traits based on common genetic variants. Transl Psychiatry 5, e604 (2015). []
  16. Kaufman, S. B., Quilty, L. C., Grazioplene, R. G., Hirsh, J. B., Gray, J. R., Peterson, J. B., & DeYoung, C. G. (2016). Openness to Experience and Intellect Differentially Predict Creative Achievement in the Arts and Sciences. Journal of personality, 84(2), 248–258. []
  17. Ozer, D. J., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2006). Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual review of psychology, 57, 401–421. []
  18. Shi, B., Dai, D. Y., & Lu, Y. (2016). Openness to Experience as a Moderator of the Relationship between Intelligence and Creative Thinking: A Study of Chinese Children in Urban and Rural Areas. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 641. []
  19. Allahverdyan, A. E., & Galstyan, A. (2014). Opinion dynamics with confirmation bias. PloS one, 9(7), e99557. []
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