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What is Openness to Experience Personality Trait in Psychology: Definition, Benefits, Examples

By:
Jesus Carmona Sanchez, PhD
|
Reviewed by:
Alexander Tokarev, PhD
Openness in Psychology - PSYCULATOR
Felix Rostig | unsplash.com

What is Openness in Psychology?

Openness in psychology refers to the personality trait characterized by being open to experience, ideas, creativity, and change.

Openness is a personality trait that people possess in varying quantities. People who score highly on the personality trait of openness are curious, creative, open to new views and perspectives, energized by new experiences and ideas, and have the capacity to be open to change and to appreciate beauty.

You might be insightful, intuitive, imaginative, and open to exploring your own and others’ emotions. We often speak about people as being “open-minded” or “closed-minded”, with the latter describing closed people showing a lack of openness.

Getting a handle on the qualities of openness and how openness is defined is helpful in knowing yourself at a deeper level. In this article, we’ll consider the characteristics and benefits of openness, how openness impacts our behavior and how to cultivate your level of openness.

Openness as a Big Five Personality Trait

So, what is an openness personality trait? How can we define an openness personality trait? Openness is one of five traits identified by psychologists seeking to describe different personality styles. Psychologists have been attempting to categorize personality traits since the late 1880s.

Theories describing personality traits have offered several different models. In recent years, there’s been growing consensus that the Big Five Model of personality traits is one of the most valid, accurate, and widely accepted ways of measuring personality. You can try our free Big Five Personality test to find out your Openness score, and what it means specifically for you.

The Big Five Personality Traits are as follows:

Each of the personality traits within the Big Five exists on a continuum. People can be more or less conscientious, for example. Some people are high in the trait of extraversion and others less so. As with all the five factors in this model, openness is not seen as a binary concept. People can be high, low, or somewhere in between when it comes to the personality trait of openness. Openness in the Big-Five, then, is one of the 5 ways psychologists measure and define personality.

High Openness to Experience

If you’re highly open to experience, you’re more likely to be a creative person and to behave in ways others perceive as very open-minded. You may well have lots of hobbies and interests, including creative pursuits. Perhaps you seek out new opportunities and may ask lots of questions because of your curiosity and thirst for understanding. You may well:

  • Become bored easily
  • Challenge authority
  • Listen and ask questions to understand someone else’s viewpoint
  • Socialize with a range of people, including people from different cultures than yourself
  • Show a sensitivity to beauty and emotion

Low Openness to Experience

If you’re low in the openness Big Five trait, you’re more likely to behave in ways others perceive as closed minded and predictable. You may be more likely to stick to routine and to resist change, preferring to “play it safe”. Less open individuals may well:

  • Keep a small, familiar group of friends
  • Stick to one or two hobbies
  • Resist change at work
  • Jump to conclusions
  • Have a familiar routine and pattern each day
  • Choose predictability over and above spontaneity
  • See value in tradition

Common Characteristics of Openness

What is openness and what does openness mean? It’s helpful to consider the opposite – think of someone you experience as “closed”. What are they like?

When it comes to openness personality trait definitions, research identifies two broad characteristics of the big 5 trait of openness, referred to as “openness” and “intellect”. Intellect refers to the characteristics of curiosity, engagement, and an openness to new experiences, learning, and abstract ideas. The second aspect refers to imagination, creative ability, and aesthetic and emotional sensitivity.

The openness Big 5 trait is sometimes called “Openness to Experience”, which helps us to see how people with high levels of openness approach life. Openness to experience example traits include an openness to:

  • Emotion and feelings
  • Fantasy
  • New ideas
  • Creative thinking and expression
  • Novel experiences
  • Unconventional beliefs
  • Critical thinking

What Are the Benefits of Openness?

Being high in the openness to experience personality trait brings several benefits. So, why is openness important and beneficial?

Creativity

Research shows a link between the Big Five trait of openness, and intelligence and creativity (Benedek et al., 2014). Openness supports the ability to think innovatively and laterally.

Diversity

Research has also shown that openness is associated with cultural inclusion and diversity, meaning that people who are high in the Big Five Trait of openness are more likely to promote an inclusive society (Han & Pistole, 2017). People high in openness are more likely to be curious and interested in difference, rather than feeling threatened and closed-off.

Well-being

There is also a positive effect of openness on health, linking this personality trait with increased happiness and life satisfaction (Steel et al 2008). The Five Ways to Wellbeing evidence-based model identifies continual learning by remaining open to new experiences as a factor in wellbeing (Farrier et al.,2019).

Examples of Openness

People displaying a high level of the Big Five trait of openness may demonstrate an active imagination and an eye for beauty. Creativity and flexibility of thought is likely to come easily to them and they’re aware of their inner feelings and emotions, also showing great emotional regulation.

An openness to experience personality trait supports them in remaining open to new opportunities and challenges and thrive on trying something new. They’re likely to enjoy choosing something different from a menu, for example, rather than sticking with what they usually order.

They enjoy learning and are happy to grapple with abstract concepts and ideas. People who score highly on the Big Five trait of openness may show a willingness to question authority rather than accepting the status quo. Other openness personality trait examples include:

  • Choosing a different vacation location each year
  • Getting involved in political debate and discussion
  • Staying open to listening to someone’s experience without jumping to conclusions
  • Demonstrating artistic prowess
  • Making links between ideas

Causes of Openness

As with so many aspects of who we are as a person, nature and nurture both play a role in what causes openness. Differences in openness are commonly attributed to:

Genetics

Openness to experience is thought to have a genetic component, with research on identical twins raised in different environments showing similar scores on openness to experience tests (Jang et al.,1996).

Environment

Nurture plays a role, too. Our birth order impacts the ways in which we demonstrate openness. Firstborns tend to score higher on openness characteristics centered on intellect and intelligence. Subsequent children are more likely to desire novelty and experimentation than their elder sibling.

Lifestyle and Upbringing

Lifestyle and life experiences impact our openness to experiences. Parental warmth has been associated with openness to experience in adolescents (Fadda et al., 2015), suggesting that parenting styles have a role to play in the big five openness trait. Research also points to the role of psychedelics and spiritual experiences as factors promoting openness.

One study showed openness levels increased for participants after the use of the psilocybin, with this increase still being present 14 months later (MacLean et al., 2011). Of course, people comfortable with risk and novelty are potentially more likely to experiment with psychedelic substances in the first place than for people with a lower level of openness.

The complex relationship between nature and nurture is shown by findings linking level of education with openness. It’s not clear whether education leads to openness, or whether people who are high on openness to experience are likely to demonstrate an increased motivation towards continued education.

Ways Openness Can Affect Behavior

How we behave and interact with others and ourselves gives clues as to how open we are. Our behavior demonstrates our level of openness, and whether we score high, low or somewhere in between on the openness Big Five personality trait. Openness tends to affect our behavior in the following ways:

Musical Talent

Research has linked openness with musical creativity, with musicians tending to score higher in openness compared to the general population (Kuckelkorn et al., 2021).

Political Attitude

Openness may also predict our political attitudes and voting behaviors. People who score highly in the trait of openness are more likely to adopt a liberal stance and less likely to be drawn to right-wing authoritarianism (Butler, 2000).

Job Performance

Research indicates the relationship between openness and workplace behavior. People scoring higher in openness were more likely to make upward job changes into managerial and professional positions (Nieß & Zacher, 2015). Interestingly this research also showed that people who made such upward job changes experienced increases in openness over time.

Ways to Increase Openness

Openness is influenced by genetic factors. But is openness a character trait that’s static throughout our life? No, our level of openness can change and is not a fixed entity. We can increase our capacity for openness by making choices and taking steps towards a greater openness. Let’s consider 3 ways to increase openness:

Adopt a Non-Judgmental Approach

When interacting with others, you may find yourself jumping to conclusions. To develop an attitude of openness, can you avoid being closed-minded? Consider the factors influencing others, so you stay curious about what they think and feel, rather than judging them too soon.

Keep Learning

Make everyday a school day and aim to learn something new every day. Become a more open-minded person by adopting the attitude modelled so well by toddlers and ask “why?” things are as they are. Aim to adopt an attitude of open curiosity to keep learning.

Embrace Creativity

When was the last time you doodled? Allow your inner creativity some free expression and use your cognitive ability to hone your openness to fantasy. Look for beauty in nature and be inspired to create a poem, song, picture, or story based on your experience. Stay open by refusing to judge your creation as “not good enough”.

FAQ

How is Openness Measured?

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Are there any Characteristics that Define Openness of the Big Five?

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How Can I Cultivate Openness on the Job?

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