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April 21, 2021
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Openness vs. closedness to experience - The Big Five Personality Traits, abstract painting of a woman with her face covered in paint

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Openness to experience is one of the five personality traits of the Big Five personality theory. It indicates how open-minded a person is.Openness to experience is that part of everyone’s personality that describes receptiveness to new ideas, different concepts and opinions, change, curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Together, knowing your level of openness and other factors can help you understand yourself and how you relate to others and your world.

Openness to experience versus Conservatism

A person with a high level of openness to experience in a personality test enjoys trying new things. They are imaginative, curious, and open-minded.

High openness means being creative and open to new ideas. Individuals with a high level of openness have a general appreciation for unusual ideas and art. They are usually imaginative, rather than practical. Being creative, open to new and different ideas, and in touch with their feelings are all characteristics of these people. 

Individuals who are low in openness to experience would rather not try new things. They are close-minded, literal and enjoy having a routine.

Less open people experience latent inhibition, a brain function that filters out extraneous visual and cognitive input. But highly open people are less subject to such cognitive inhibition.

Studies show that open people are less susceptible to the psychological “blind spots” that help us pare back the world’s complexity. And research shows that this characterization is more than a metaphor: open people literally see things differently in terms of basic visual perception.

Find out more about openness and other Big Five personality traits by taking a Big Five Personality Test.

Common Openness to experience Traits

Each of the Big Five personality traits is made up of six facets or sub traits. These can be assessed independently of the trait that they belong to in a personality test.

The sub traits of the openness to experience domain are:

Artistic interests

High openness characteristics

  • Very creative
  • Open to trying new things
  • Curious
  • Imaginative
  • Creative
  • Open to trying new things
  • Unconventional
  • Focused on tackling new challenges
  • Happy to think about abstract concepts

Low openness characteristics

  • Dislikes change
  • Does not enjoy new things
  • Predictable
  • Not very imaginative
  • Dislikes change
  • Prefer routine
  • Traditional
  • Resists new ideas
  • Dislikes abstract or theoretical concepts
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Causes of Openness

The exact reason why people tend to be more open to experiences or more conservative has been the subject of considerable debate and research in psychology. As with many such debates, the question tends to boil down to two key contributors: nature or nurture.

Openness to experience, like the other traits in the five factor model, is believed to have a genetic component. Identical twins (who have the same DNA) show similar scores on openness to experience, even when they have been adopted into different families and raised in very different environments. One genetic study with 86 subjects found Openness to experience related to the 5 – HTTLPR polymorphism associated with the serotonin transporter gene. A meta-analysis by Bouchard and McGue of four twin studies found openness to be the most heritable (mean = 57%) of the Big Five traits.

Higher levels of openness have been linked to activity in the ascending dopaminergic system and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Openness is the only personality trait that correlates with neuropsychological tests of dorsolateral prefrontal cortical function, supporting theoretical links among openness, cognitive functioning, and IQ.

Psychologists in the early 1970s used the concept of openness to experience to describe people who are more likely to use marijuana. Openness was defined in these studies as high creativity, adventurousness, internal sensation novelty seeking, and low authoritarianism. Several correlational studies confirmed that young people who score high on this cluster of traits are more likely to use marijuana.

A 2011 study found Openness (and not other traits) increased with the use of psilocybin, an effect that held even after 14 months. The study found that individual differences in levels of mystical experience while taking psilocybin were correlated with increases in Openness.

Absorbtion and hypnotisability

Openness to experience is strongly related to the psychological construct of absorption, a correlate of hypnotizability is related to a broader dimension of openness to experience, defined as “a disposition for having episodes of ‘total’ attention that fully engage one’s representational (i.e. perceptual, enactive, imaginative, and ideational) resources.The construct of absorption was developed to relate individual differences in hypnotisability to broader aspects of personality. The construct of absorption influenced Costa and McCrae’s development of the concept of openness to experience in their original NEO model due to the independence of absorption from extraversion and neuroticism. 

A person’s openness to becoming absorbed in experiences seems to require a more general openness to be new and unusual experiences. Openness to experience like absorption has modest positive correlations with individual differences in hypnotisability. Factor analysis has shown that the fantasy, aesthetics, and feelings facets of openness are closely related to absorption and predict hypnotisability. In contrast, the remaining three facets of ideas, actions, and values are largely unrelated to these constructs. This finding suggests that openness to experience may have two distinct yet related subdimensions: aspects of attention and consciousness assessed by the facets of fantasy, aesthetics, and feelings; the other related to intellectual curiosity and social/political liberalism as assessed by the remaining three facets.

Openness and other Big Five Traits

Careers and Openness trait

It has been argued that how a person’s career unfolds is increasingly affected by their own values, personality characteristics, goals and preferences. See the best-suited careers for people who score high on openness to experience traits.

Having a high level of openness is important in jobs that require creative thinking and a flexible attitude. Jobs such as advertising, research, and other artistic occupations all benefit from high openness. 

Potential ideas for those who rank high in this area are:

  • Artist.
  • Travel Writer.
  • Pilot.
  • Lawyer.
  • Publicist.
  • Entrepreneur.
  • Graphic Designer.
  • Philosopher.

A person who scores low in openness on a career test may excel in jobs that involve routine work and do not require creativity.

Openness to experience Book Recommendations

Continue expanding your knowledge on the subject of openness to experience trait and engage it by reading the books we have selected for you:  


Envision your Evolution

Contemporary psychology

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Stress Reaction
Openness & 

In order to reduce the tension resulted from stressful situations he frequently avoids and represses negative thoughts as a coping mechanism. Another typical characteristic is the tendency to underestimate and ignore the problems that occur. Thus, he is less in contact with his emotions.

The Avoider

He prefers isolating and escaping reality in a fantasy world in which things would have evolved differently and in which eccentric solutions would have been possible. He manifests a lot of sensibility and frailty and gives vent to his imagination, oftentimes exaggerating other people’s actions.

The Fantezist
Openness to experience
The Acceptor

He lets himself in the hands of destiny, preferring to get used to and accept the problem that arises rather than try to modify the situation. His premise is that he cannot eliminate the source of stress. To reduce the amount of distress he experiences, he also tends to diminish the gravity of the problem.

The Rationalizer

To eliminate the source of stress, he objectively analyses the situation and comes up with original solutions to overcome the problem at hand. If this is not possible, he restructures how he sees things by using humour or finding secondary benefits for the given situation.

Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Society Orientation
Openness & 

He is sensitive to the traditional values of society like family or church. Often believes that strictly respecting the moral and traditional norms without questioning them is something one must do if one wants to live in a healthy society.

The Traditional

Idealist and open-minded, he trusts in society’s favourable evolution and the positive nature of the human being. Believes that education significantly contributes to the development of society. He is tolerant and encourages any form of acceptance and diversity of ideas.

The Progressist
Openness to experience
The Fundamentalist

He lets his judgement be influenced by many preconceived ideas, which he passionately defends and can let go of with difficulty, no matter the evidence presented. Moreover, he has a sceptical vision of the evolution of human society, thinking those who break existing rules should be severely punished.

The Sophist

He can critically discuss any problem seeing both advantages and disadvantages, without getting emotionally involved. He prefers not to blend in with the rest of his co-workers and make winning and rational counter-arguments, even when risking to not consider the sensibilities of his colleagues when doing so.

Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Life Orientation
Openness & 

He prefers group activities where he can implement solutions that are accepted and valued by society. Manifests a strong interest in everything fashionable. He makes efforts not to be left behind and to climb the social ladder.

The Pragmatic

Likes innovative approaches in his ongoing activities. He is always looking for new sensations in which he passionately involves himself but bore him just as fast. He easily stands out and enjoys situations that put the spotlight on him. 

The Expertimenter
Openness to Experience
The Housewife

He prefers practical activities which he can have on his own or in a familiar context to extravagant social reunions or cultural preoccupations. Changes and risk-taking are both avoided, stability being the keyword.

The Philosopher

He seems to be more interested in ideas and internal affective experiences than people. He prefers solitary activities like writing or photographic art. He has a vivid imagination but which frequently remains at the stage of fantasy.

Big Five circumplex models of Personality

Cognitive style
Openness & 

He prefers a methodical approach to solving tasks that precisely follows the rules without deviating from them. Instead, he has difficulties and anxiety when dealing with less structured problems or situations that don’t have a clear solution and require a creative way to solve. 

The Conformer

He makes the tasks he receives his own, restructuring the material logically and persuasively. Having a strong motivation for self-realisation and high aspirations, the analyst achieves the best performances in independent situations characterised by clear objectives and working procedures.

The Analyst
Openness to experience
The Reluctant

He prefers simple tasks that require traditional means of solving problems. Dislikes intellectual effort, preferring action to the detriment of analysis. Manifests resistance to learning new things, being complacent to applying what he already knows. Frequently disorganized, it’s not uncommon for him to ask for deadline extensions.

The Engineer

He uses his creativity and intuition to good use by generating countless ideas and projects since he is always interested in all things new. On the other hand, he has difficulties implementing his proposals, most of them remaining at the initial project stage because they are abandoned for new ones.