What Is Openness?

Openness to experience (or simply openness) is a basic personality trait denoting receptivity to new ideas and new experiences. It is one of the five core personality dimensions—known as the five-factor model of personality, or Big 5—that drive behavior.

People with high levels of openness are 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 lower on the trait. They tend to exhibit high levels of curiosity and often enjoy being surprised.

Those with low levels of openness prefer familiar routines, people, and ideas and can be perceived as closed-minded. Openness is positively correlated with creativity—those who are particularly open to experience have been shown to have more active imaginations and a greater appreciation for aesthetics and beauty—as well as some measures of well-being, including overall happiness.

Levels of openness vary by location; within the U.S., those on the coasts are typically rated as more open than those in the middle of the country. Like other traits in the five-factor model, openness is believed to have a genetic component and to exist on a spectrum: Some people score very high, others very low, and most fall somewhere in the middle. Research provides conflicting answers on the question of gender differences in openness: Some studies have found no differences between genders, while others have found significant variation.

Unlike the other Big 5 traits—extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness—openness appears to have no significant correlation with anxiety or mood disorders.

Is Openness a Good Thing?

Openness is defined as the internal motivation to pursue and enjoy new things, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the trait has been shown to correlate with an increased willingness to test out novel activities that many consider risky. Those with greater levels of openness, for example, are more likely to experiment with drugs, notably marijuana and ecstasy. (Some evidence also suggests that the hallucinatory sensations triggered by the drug psilocybin may actually increase levels of openness—at least temporarily.)

Similarly, openness has been correlated with liberal sexual attitudes, more sexual experiences, and more imaginative sexual fantasies. A more open approach to sex may pay off: Higher levels of openness have been shown to be correlated with greater levels of sexual satisfaction, particularly for women.


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