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Openness to experience is one of five major domains of personality described by psychologists (Goldberg, 1993; McCrae & John, 1992). Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity (Costa & McCrae, 1992). An abundance of psychometric research has demonstrated that these qualities are statistically correlated. Thus, openness can be viewed as a global personality trait comprised of a set of specific traits, habits, and tendencies that cluster together.
Openness tends to be normally distributed with a small number of individuals scoring extremely high or low on the trait, and most people scoring somewhere in the middle. People who score low on openness are considered closed to experience. They tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally have a narrower range of interests. They could be considered practical and down to earth.
People who are open to experience are not any more healthy or well adjusted than people who are closed to experience. There is no relationship between openness and neuroticism, or any other measure of psychological wellbeing. Being open and closed to experience are simply two different ways of relating to the world.
The NEO PI-R personality test measures six subsets of openness to experience:
- Fantasy - the tendency toward a vivid imagination and fantasy life
- Aesthetics - the tendency to appreciate art, music, and poetry
- Feelings - being receptive to inner emotional states and valuing emotional experience
- Actions - the inclination to try new activities, visit new places, and try new foods
- Ideas - the tendency to be intellectually curious and open to new ideas
- Values - the readiness to re-examine traditional social, religious, and political values
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) measures the preference of intuition, which is related to openness to experience.
Sample Openness items
- I am full of ideas.
- I am quick to understand things.
- I have a rich vocabulary.
- I have a vivid imagination.
- I have excellent ideas.
- I spend time reflecting on things.
- I use difficult words.
- I am not interested in abstract ideas. (reversed)
- I do not have a good imagination. (reversed)
- I have difficulty understanding abstract ideas. (reversed) 
Openness to experience correlates with creativity, as measured by tests of divergent thinking (McCrae, 1987). Openness is also associated with crystallized intelligence, but not fluid intelligence (Geary, 2005). These mental abilities may come more easily when people are dispositionally curious and open to learning. However, openness is only weakly related to general intelligence. Openness to experience is related to need for cognition, a motivational tendency to think about ideas, scrutinize information, and enjoy solving puzzles.
There are social and political implications to this personality trait. People who are highly open to experience tend to be politically liberal and tolerant of diversity. As a consequence, they are generally more open to different cultures and lifestyles. They are lower in ethnocentrism and Right Wing Authoritarianism (Butler, 2000).
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 (Jang, Livesly, & Vemon, 1996).
Correlates of Openness
Openness is correlated weakly (≤.3) with measures of creativity, and with intelligence test scores. Current analyses suggest that the correlation with IQ is due to a subset of Openness measures acting as self-report IQ measures. It is possible that openness is a mechanism facilitating access to novel thoughts — this would explain the correlation of openness (O) to responses on creativity measures such as imagining different uses for common objects.
Openness is often presented as healthier or more mature by psychologists. However, open and closed styles of thinking are useful in different environments. The intellectual style of the open person may serve a professor well, but research has shown that closed thinking is related to superior job performance in police work, sales, and a number of service occupations which require a minimum of cortical processing.
Biology of Openness
Higher levels of Openness have been linked to activity in the ascending dopaminergic system and the functions of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Openness is the only personality trait that correlates with neuropsychological tests of dorsolateral prefrontal cortical function, supporting the link between Openness and IQ (DeYoung, Peterson, & Higgins, 2005)
- Adaptability (personality)
- Big Five personality traits
- Conformity (personality)
- Hypnotic susceptibility
- Rigidity (personality)
- Trait theory
- Butler, J. C. (2000). Personality and emotional correlates of right-wing authoritarianism. Social Behavior and Personality, 28, 1-14. 
- Costa, P. T. & McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO personality Inventory professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
- Geary, D. C. (2005). The origin of mind: Evolution of brain, cognition, and general intelligence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48, 26-34.
- Jang, K. L., Livesly, W. J., & Vemon, P. A. (1996). Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: A twin study. Journal of Personality, 64, 577.
- McCrae, R. R. (1987). Creativity, divergent thinking, and openness to experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 1258-1265.
- McCrae, R. R. & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the Five-Factor Model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60, 175-215.
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