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 that drive behavior—known as the five-factor model of personality, or the Big 5. 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 less open to novelty. They tend to exhibit high levels of curiosity and often enjoy being surprised. People with low levels of openness prefer familiar routines, people, and ideas; they can be perceived as closed-minded.
Being open to experience is associated with creativity, curiosity, and a hunger for knowledge and learning. People high in this trait are also divergent and abstract thinkers, they are able to come up with multiple novel solutions to a difficult problem.
Openness is correlated with higher measures of well-being, including overall happiness. People high in this trait feel more positive and have warm and loving relationships with the people around them. Research has not found any noteworthy correlation between openness and anxiety or other mood disorders.
People high in openness are willing to try new things, like an exotic dish or travel to a strange land. They are inquisitive and seek out knowledge. People who are more open may be less practical and less analytical; instead, they rely on their inventiveness and are more receptive to change.
Like other traits in the five-factor model, openness is believed to have a genetic component and exists on a spectrum: Some people score very high, others very low, and most fall somewhere in the middle. Also, research provides conflicting answers on the question of gender differences in openness: Some studies have found no differences between genders, while others have found variation.
This is an essential trait of successful innovators and creative people. With an appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to try new things, you can better navigate daily challenges and discover novel solutions. Studies even show that openness to experience positively correlates with increased job performance.
Having a set routine is good for staying on task. Yet if you are rigidly bound to your schedule, you may close yourself off, making it harder to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Being more flexible and adding variety can help you to become more open.
Openness reflects a tendency to pursue and enjoy unfamiliar things. Therefore, it makes sense that this trait is positively correlated with innovative thinking—those who are particularly open to experience have been shown to have more active imaginations and a greater appreciation for aesthetics and beauty.
Openness is the only personality trait that consistently predicts political orientation. A study in the journal International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences showed that people high in openness are more likely to endorse liberalism and more likely to express their political beliefs, in general.
Levels of openness do vary by location. Within the U.S., people on the coasts are typically rated as more open than those in the middle of the country. Likewise, people who live on the coasts are more liberal, and people who live in the midwest are more conservative.
Openness has been correlated with liberal sexual attitudes, more sexual experiences, and more imaginative sexual fantasies. And 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.
This trait is correlated 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 certain drugs may actually increase levels of openness—at least temporarily.