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Openness to Experience (2009). Robert R. McCrae & Angelina R. Sutin. McCrae, R.R. & Sutin, A.R. (2009). Openness to experience. In M.R. Leary and R.H. Hoyle (Eds) Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior, 257-273. New York: Guilford. Openness: An orientation.

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openness to experience 2009

Openness to Experience(2009)

Robert R. McCrae


Angelina R. Sutin

McCrae, R.R. & Sutin, A.R. (2009). Openness to experience. In M.R. Leary and R.H. Hoyle (Eds) Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior, 257-273. New York: Guilford.

openness an orientation
Openness: An orientation

Difficulty in Conceptualization

  • One of the dimensions of the Five-Factor Model
  • Also be called intellect, culture or imagination in lexical systems, and these are not necessarily close enough to be considered synonymous.
  • Openness implies a willingness to adopt novel and unconventional ways of thinking and behaving, manifest in such traits as creativity, imaginativeness, curiosity, and aesthetic appreciation.

(Haslam,N, 2007)

  • Most loosely related of any of the five factors
  • Indispensable?

Extraversion Extraversion

Neuroticism Neuroticism

Psychoticism Agreeableness



  • High Openness: imaginative, sensitive to art and beauty, emotionally differentiated, behaviorally flexible, intellectually curious, and liberal in values.
  • Low Openness: down-to-earth, uninterested in art, shallow in affect, set in their ways, lacking curiosity, and traditional in values.

Open people admire openness, closed people despise it.

Strongly heritable

Changes over time

  • Openness shows high levels of differential stability across the adult lifespan.
  • Increasing from early adolescence until some time in the 20s, and then gradually declining


Correlations with Intelligence: about 0.4 with divergent thinking

0.3 with verbal and facial emotion recognition task

0.26 with verbal score

Authoritatianism -0.29 ~ 0.63

Need for Closure (the desire for definite and final answers) -0.42

Need for Cognition High, with high C

Thought Complexity -0.36

Emotional Intelligence Modest

individual social interactions
Individual social interactions

Person presentation and perception

  • Open individuals express themselves across a variety of mediums.
  • In Interpersonal interactions
  • In Daily lives
  • Artistic and intellectual proclivities.

Observers are fairly good at picking up on these behavioral indicators of openness.

However, these lay conceptions can be inaccurate.

  • Office characteristics are largely unrelated

to the individual’s actual level of openness.

  • Openness is unrelated to using big words
  • Openness also is unrelated to the behaviors

on personal web pages or in chatroom

How accurately others can infer openness?

1. Multiple judges do agree with each other on the individual’s level of openness, which suggests that lay conceptions of openness are not idiosyncratic.

  • Observers agree on Openness when judging personal websites, top-10 song lists, and offices and bedrooms
  • Compared to the other traits in the FFM, Openness and Extraversion show similar levels of consensus and both remain high as acquaintanceship increase.

2. Accuracy also depends on the task observed.

Laboratory studies

1. A very narrow sliver of time for perceivers to form a judgment of Openness.

  • Perceivers form an impression of openness very quickly that is resistant to change.

2. Correlational studies among people who have know each other, not for seconds or minutes, but for up to 70s.

  • The length of acquaintance increases cross-observer agreement
individual social interactions1
Individual social interactions

Marriage and family

“At each stage, from deciding whether to get married to parenting, Openness shapes these choices, interactions, and consequences” (McCrae & Sutin, 2009)

1. There is often social pressure to “find someone, settle down, and start a family”;

2. People want their ideal partner to be “just like themselves” especially on Openness (Figueredo, Sefcek, & Jones, 2006);

3. However at the stage of marriage it is slightly more important to be similar on Conscientiousness (Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997);

4. “Despite preferences, people settle for much less” (Figueredo et al., 2006);

5. Physical attractiveness, proximity, or availability may be more important than ideal personality;

6. There are mixed findings showing different similarity correlations for personality traits:

- Watson and colleagues (2004) found no similarity correlations for any of the FFM personality traits (r=-.03), but the highest similarity correlations for age, religiousness and political conservatism (r=.71);

- Neyer and Voigt (2004) found significant correlations for both O (r=.25) and C (r=.39), but not for N, E, or A;

- McRae and colleagues (in press) found that O had the largest correlation (r=.22). In addition:

a) Facet-level analysis showed that mostly O to Values brings people together

b) People also tend to choose and marry partners who are similar on O2:Aesthetics

7. However “discrepancies between ideal partner personality and actual partner personality do not predict dissatisfaction” (Botwin et al., 1997);

8.Communication is also an important key in healthy and satisfying relationships

- Couples high in O are more likely to communicate effectively in order to solve their marital problems;

10.In some context low O may be associated with better outcomes;

11. O shapes daily life and especially the parenting style:

- Open parents are more open-minded and tolerant whilst closed parents demand obedience (Metsapelto and Pulkkinen, 2003).

individual social interactions2
Individual social interactions

Strangers and friends

  • Open and closed individuals differ in their political orientations, beliefs about religion and intellectual interests that can influence their friendships.
  • Openness shapes interpersonal interactions:
  • casual interactions
  • long-term committed relationships
  • Implications for a variety of outcomes:
  • relationship satisfaction
  • conflict resolution
  • parenting
  • social support
social and political effects
Social and political effects


  • O correlates with a measure of prejudice -0.49; all facets except Ideas (-0.25 - -0.49); Values correlates -0.55

O correlates with a measure of sexism -0.32; all facets except Ideas and Fantasy (-0.18 - -0.43)

(Ekehammer & Akrami, 2007)

  • Self-report racial attitudes lower in participants with high O; more favourable impressions of a fictional black character; rate a black interviewee more positively (Flynn, 2005)
  • Black people high in anti-White attitudes more likely to score high on O (Lecci & Johnson, 2008)
Political attitudes
  • Openness correlates significantly and negatively with right-wing ideology, except in political party members (-0.37 - -0.47)

Values correlates with political ideology in all groups (-0.37- -0.57)

Surprisingly, Ideas was associated with membership of an extreme right-wing political party

(Van Hiel, Kossowska & Mervielde, 2000)

  • Negative correlation between openness and conservative ideology (-.41)

More strongly related to cultural than economic conservatism

(Van Hiel & Mervielde, 2004)

aggregate openness and culture
Aggregate openness and culture
  • Nations differ systematically in mean levels of traits, but this difference is smaller than the differences within cultures.
  • Most open? Switzerland, Serbia, Austria & Germany.
  • Modern, progressive & well-educated.
  • Prefer egalitarian to hierarchical social structures & focus is on the individual rather than the group.
  • Concerned about tolerance, imagination & personal fulfilment – common goals in open individuals.
  • Least open? Croatia, Spain, Hong Kong, Malaysia & India.
  • Traditional cultures are influenced by religion and are against abortion, divorce & euthanasia – values shared by closed individuals.
Genetic or environmental?
  • Acculturation studies (= members of an ethnic group moving from one culture to another).
  • Hong Kong born Chinese score ½ sd. lower than Canadian born Chinese.
  • Canadian born Chinese score sig. lower than European Chinese.
  • Genetic and environmental influences may be mutually reinforcing.
  • Critics: differences may be due to translation problems or culture specific response styles.
  • Openness to experience has a number of consequences for social behaviour, and so is an important construct in the study of personality and social psychology