The Big 5 & Me: Openness to Experience

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If you’ve read any of my previous musings in the realm of psychology, you’ll know I’m a big fan of personality theory. There isn’t much in this world that intrigues me more than the intricacies of people and how we can better understand those intricacies. We’re all different, so there’s theoretically infinite to learn about ourselves in the context of personality.

My two favourite personality tests are easily Costa & McCrae’s 5 Factor Model and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I’d be happy to delve into either, but realistically speaking it would take a long time to get through all 16 combinations that the MBTI can spit out. No, instead I want to go through the Big 5.

I’m planning on doing a piece on each of the five traits; Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. I want to explore each of these traits in relation to myself, how I rate on each of the trait scales contrasted with how I see these traits in my thoughts and behaviour.

Take a look at my writings on the other traits so far:

OpennessConscientiousness | Extroversion | Agreeableness | Neuroticism

An intra-personal reflection can only serve to help better one’s self in understanding themselves. With that, let’s start with myself and Openness to experience.


What is Openness to Experience?

Openness to experience is related to intelligence, absorption of attention, creativity and curiosity. As well as traits like being philosophical, being able to create and understand abstract concepts, and being willing to try out new ways of doing things.

People high in Openness to experience are often associated with intellectuals, eccentrics, geniuses, and more of the like because of a shared want for knowledge and sensations. They have also found to be higher in positivity, happiness, and life quality (Steel et al, 2008). Indeed these are positive things, and some might see Openness to experience as an extremely desirable trait, I know I do, but there are subjectively negative sides, like with everything.

People high in Openness to experience are more likely to take drugs like Cannabis according to Flory et al (2002), but at the same time there’s also studies that show no link between Openness to experience and drugs like MDMA (ter Bogt et al, 2005). It’s also been shown that Openness to experience correlates with being more easily hypnotised (Glisky et al, 1991), which could be good or bad depending on your viewpoint.

Openness to Experience
Hypnosis was mentioned, obligatory swirly graphic.

Generally speaking however, I think most people would relish being high on Openness to experience as its advantages seem to trump any negatives that are argued. You may well end up a hypnotised drug-addict one day, but at least you’ll generally be happy and positive about it! Well probably not, but there’s always hope.

How I Rate on the Openness to Experience Scale

I took my Five-Factor Model test on, which I recommend for anyone who wants to compare their own results with my own. Below you’ll see my ratings on all of the traits, we’re just going to focus on Openness to experience for now:

Openness to Experience

It looks like a sad day for me, I’m within the lower-end of the average for the Openness trait, which means I “don’t typically seek out new experiences”. It’s all good though because traits only influence our behaviour, it’s ultimately our own choice what behaviour we exhibit… unless you’re of the behaviourist persuasion.

I will admit, I did believe I would score higher in Openness to experience, but I think that most people would naturally want to be higher in the trait than they actually are. Truth be told, I’m not an overly positive person, I am quite a cynic, and I like to observe often instead of actively participating; mostly if it’s a new experience. With that in mind, I can see my score as being somewhat accurate in its meaning, but who knows, it could change over the years. I could also just take some magic mushrooms to increase my Openness to experience according to MacLean, Johnson, & Griffiths (2011)!

Now we’ll take a look at how I see myself in relation to this trait and my personal score.

The Openness to Experience Trait & Me

When it comes to identifying characteristics of the self, one should know beforehand that whatever is identified is no doubt heavily biased. The way you see yourself is very much different to what others see, psychologically speaking (Eyal & Epley, 2010) as well as physically (Nestor et al, 2010). With that, keep in mind that how I perceive my own personality is very likely to be different from what others who know me would perceive.

Generally speaking, I believed I’d be pretty high in Openness to experience, at least above average, but obviously this was not the case. I thought this because I believe myself to be above average intelligence (who doesn’t?), I thought I did a many things that most other people don’t do, and I thought I was particularly original and creative. Of course, anyone would want to believe those things of them self, it bolsters self-esteem and is ultimately self rewarding to believe. But that’s the key word here, ‘believe’. Simply because I believe I possess such characteristics does not make it so.

What’s interesting here is comparing what you think you are to what others think you are. It might be enlightening to cross-examine the two right? …Right? Well not so fast, it might be interesting and you might learn a thing or two, but their viewpoint suffers from its own bias. Not only will people often tell you what you want to hear, their judgements and interpretations of your behaviour will influence them also. It’s important to note – if it’s not too obvious already – that two different people may interpret your behaviour entirely differently, and thus your personality. We can all think back to a time when we thought someone we recently met was being unkind or cold, but then someone else assures us that it’s just how they act normally and that they aren’t actually being a dick to you.

Openness to Experience
Cats are easily the greatest exemplar of this.

So how do you come to understand how you relate to your trait? – Rhyme not intended. Well that’s the beauty of it all, I guess you don’t. You can try to identify the behaviours that make sense under your score, but that can be ambiguous at best. I think the best and most pragmatic thing you can do with your new-found personality information is identify what you can do to move towards your ideal self.

I would like to be higher on the Openness to experience scale because I admire the characteristics associated with it. Because I admire those characteristics, I am going to work towards internalising those within myself so I eventually come to exhibit them naturally. It’s all about continuing to develop and grow towards your ideal self, and as long as you’re doing that, you’re on the right path as far as I’m concerned. – Unless your ideal self involves becoming the next Adolf Hitler, then you may consider seeking professional help or committing yourself now to get it over and done with already.

So where do you rank on the Openness to experience scale? Yes you, reader, go and find out at then come back and tell us in the comments section, we’ll be waiting for you.

– Jamie


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Openness to Experience


Featured Image: ©Kate Ter Haar