Openness is one of the five personality traits of the Big Five personality theory. Openness scores refer to a person’s openness to new experiences and ability to accommodate differences in other people. In addition, openness to experience comfortably explores new ideas, driven by a hunger for knowledge and love of learning. An open-minded (high scores in openness) person enjoys trying new things. They are imaginative, curious, and creative. Scoring low is behaviorally expressed in strict routines, literalness, practicality, and fear of the unknown.
Psychology Today defines people with high levels of this trait as “more likely to seek out a variety of experiences, be comfortable with the unfamiliar, and pay attention to their inner feelings more than those who are less open to novelty. They tend to exhibit high levels of curiosity and often enjoy being surprised” (Psychology Today).
Openness is one of the big five personality traits. People with high levels of this trait are characterized as open-minded, imaginative, and creative. Open people seek curiously seek new experiences and explore their environments.
The Opposite of Openness
In contrast, low levels of openness is expressed by fear of the unknown and resistance to new experiences. Behaviorally this can be observed as strictness to routines, and resistant to changes. Lack of openness is a conservative approach to change, more likely to stick to the comfort of the known rather than venturing into the unknown.
Openness and Emotions
Openness also correlates with more attunement to feelings. For instance, many studies have found a correlation between high openness and wellbeing and overall happiness. Perhaps, this is, in part, because of the healthy relationship with emotions. Also, well-being may be positively impacted by the benefits of high openness on intimate relationships.
Brian R. Little wrote “openness applies as well to experiencing emotions. Like neurotic individuals, open ones are more likely to acknowledge negative feelings of anxiety, depression, or hostility than are more closed individuals.” However, he adds “they are also more likely to experience positive emotions such as delight, wonderment, and joy” (2016, Kindle location 727).
Mindfulness is a purposeful exploration of openness, allowing the mind to openly experience emotion with interest and curiosity. Research confirms the health benefits of journeys into open examination of our experience (2007).
The Negative Side
We typically perceive openness as a positive quality. However, like all the other personality traits, we can consider too much or too little openness as a neurosis. Accordingly, a person with too much openness to experience may be chaotic, lacking stability, and never satisfied with life. Accordingly, they may be emotionally labile, bouncing from extreme highs and experiencing devastating lows, such as in bipolar disorder.
In the extremities, high openness may include lack of commitment to long term relationships or projects. We may also characterize high scores in openness as flighty, with susceptibility to magical thinking and chasing unobtainable dreams.
T. Franklin Murphy warns of the dangers of extreme openness and the wise use of caution in our adventure into the unknown. He wrote, “those that haphazardly jump at every dream will experience many costly failures, perhaps significant losses requiring prolonged recoveries. We possess finite resources. Our time, money and relationships cannot consistently be sacrificed chasing imaginary rainbows—failures accumulate leaving deforming scars” (2018).
Sub-Traits of Openness
Within each of the Big Five personality traits is six sub-traits. The sub-traits of this personality domain are:
- Artistic interests
Personality Characteristics of High Openness
- Knowledgeable from love of learning
- Interested in new things
- Enjoys hearing new ideas
- Explores abstract concepts
- Open to diversity
- Interested in art
Our individual mix of traits is a grand compilation of biological and environmental factors. Accordingly, the nature-nurture debate bleeds into all behavioral expressions, especially personality. Comparatively, personality traits are resistant to change. However, we can modify our personality to over time and with consistent effort.
Little, B. R. (2016). Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being. Public Affairs; Reprint edition.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2018). Venturing into the Unknown. Flourishing Life Society. Published 10-2018; Accessed 10-19-2022.
Williams, Mark; Teasdale, John; Segal, Zindel; Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2007). The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. The Guilford Press.