Openness to experience, or simply openness for short, is a personality dimension under the Big Five personality theory. The other dimensions are agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extraversion (also spelled extroversion).
Openness to experience is associated with being receptive to new and unusual ideas, seeking adventures, being creative and inventive, nonconformity1, tolerance, and curiosity.
Openness to experience is a personality dimension that reflects someone who has an invitational information attitude.2
Individuals with a high score on this dimension are inquisitive, creative, and unconventional.3 They are tolerant, open to novelty, curious, and always looking to be surprised, thus inviting new and unusual ideas. These individuals are daring and adventurous in their approach to life and work, and they like to challenge the status quo.
In this sense, they are always seeking new learning opportunities and take up a broad-minded approach to everything. Their openness to new experiences also results in a natural process of thinking “outside the box”, prompting them to offer creative and innovative solutions.
Low levels of openness to experience, on the other hand, denote someone conservative in their approach and thinking processes. They prefer to be conventional and “play safe” than engage in new activities or changes.
These individuals value familiarity, consistency, and routine and shun away from any ideas that may challenge their status quo or affect their customs and procedures. In fact, they prefer and seek information and data that supports their preexisting points of view or that substantiates their knowledge and understanding of a topic.4
High openness is generally associated with good and positive personality traits. Individuals who score high on this dimension are broadminded and always open to novelty ideas and to learn more. They are also highly adaptable to changing situations and tend to seek alternative and innovative solutions to problems5 by combining and incorporating different concepts and ideas.
Nevertheless, high openness also comes with its pitfalls. For example, the thirst for knowledge may not always be accompanied by critical thinking. In this regard, even if they are tolerant and embrace differences, it does not prevent individuals with a high openness score from being gullible. Furthermore, depending on their other personality dimensions, they can also develop a sense of entitlement and disregard for anyone who they do not perceive as open-minded as them.
Additionally, their creativity and vast knowledge may turn them blind to practical and straightforward solutions, rendering them inefficient.
Contrary to high openness, a low score on this dimension reflects several personality traits perceived as negative. These individuals are seen as rigid and too conservative. Not only do they avoid changes and novelty, but they can also outright refuse them and actively work to keep the status quo without any regard for others. Their tendency to seek biased information that confirms or enhances their preexisting beliefs and knowledge is also seen as undesirable.
However, low openness can be an advantage in certain problem-solving situations.
When in need to perform a search and acquire information, these individuals are target-focused. They do not enjoy the process of searching for something nor do they stray away from their path. Satisfaction comes from closure, not openness, and they want to reach the end target and acquire the needed information as quickly as possible. In this sense, they can be more efficient and productive than high openness scorers, depending on the context.6
Openness is a highly sought trait in employees, for several reasons. First, their creativity and willingness to learn often translate into novel solutions to problems. Not only can they potentially find better and more efficient alternatives to the old ways, but they are also more likely to quickly find a solution to problems that could not be solved using old techniques.
Furthermore, an employee open to learning tends to have a more cooperative approach, listening to others and sharing suggestions, which can result in more efficient and productive processes, performances, and approaches.
Lastly, their tolerance and ability to adapt is particularly important nowadays, when most jobs imply working with a diverse group of people from different nationalities, backgrounds, races, genders, religions, ethnicities, or ages, for example.
An employee with a low level of openness, on the other hand, can be perceived as a “know it all”. Although it is unlikely that they do know it all, these individuals tend to be experts or at least very good at the few interests they have. In this sense, they are often valuable in a work context as someone who others can rely on that particular subject. However, they may not be perceived as approachable, since they do not accept suggestions or comments about any changes that might improve the workflow.
High openness scorers tend to perform well in careers that allow them to express their creativity freely and that puts them in contact with new concepts and ideas every day. Nevertheless, it is hard to pinpoint a specific job that suits them because other personality traits affect their overall disposition.
For example, individuals with high openness to experience are potentially good artists, with the term here encompassing any creative endeavor (musician, writer, painter, photographer, etc.). However, the most suitable career for them would depend on their other personality dimensions.
Someone high in openness and extraversion might enjoy a job that required performing for an audience, while someone high in openness but low in extraversion would be better suited for a job such as a writer, for example.
Overall, potential careers for individuals high in openness to experience include:
- Artist (photographer, painter, sculptor, musician, writer, poet, etc.)
- Travel agent
- Flight attendant
Because they are less open to new ideas and interests, low openness scorers tend to focus more on the few interests they have. Due to this, they are prone to become experts in specific topics and areas that are not directly linked or affected by innovations.
They also enjoy routines and schedules and the consistency that comes with following the rules.
The combination of these personality traits makes them potentially good in data-driven and pragmatic careers. As such, potential good jobs for individuals with low openness include:
- Financial analyst
1 Salmon, C. (2012), Birth Order, Effect on Personality, and Behavior. In Ramachandran, V.S. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), Academic Press
2 Heinström, Jannica (2010), From Fear to Flow. Chandos Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-84334-513-8.50019-4.
3 Ashton, Michael C. (2018), Individual Differences and Personality (Third Edition). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809845-5.02001-1.
4 Heinström, Jannica, 2010
5 Alarcon, Gene M., Capiola, A. & Pfahler, Marc D. (2021), The role of human personality on trust in human-robot interaction. In Nam, Chang S. & Lyons, Joseph B. (Eds.) Trust in Human-Robot Interaction. Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/C2018-0-04443-6
6 Heinström, Jannica, 2010