Openness/Intellect: The Core of the Creative Personality

by Scott Barry Kaufman, March 18, 2017 in Blog

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Openness/Intellect: The Core of the Creative Personality

Victoria C. Oleynick, Colin G. DeYoung, Elizabeth Hyde, Scott Barry Kaufman, Roger E. Beaty, and Paul J. Silvia 

(Appears in The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity and Personality Research, edited by Gregory J. Feist, Roni Reiter-Palmon, and James C. Kaufman)

Openness/intellect is perhaps the broadest, most contentious, and most quintessentially human of the Big Five personality traits. Capacity for imagination and artistic and intellectual curiosity, central components of the openness/intellect dimension, are part of what defines and advances our species. In terms of breadth, the openness/intellect domain encompasses traits ranging from intel- lectual abilities to aesthetic interests to potentially maladaptive cognitive tendencies related to psychosis. This remarkable breadth has driven a long-standing debate over how to best interpret and label this dimension.

In this chapter, we argue that Openness/intellect is at the core of the creative personality. Despite historical disagreements over the interpretation of the openness/intellect dimension, its association with creativity is reliable and strong. This association is evident regardless of how creativity is assessed, and openness/intellect predicts creativity in nearly all domains of creative activity. By differentiating the two aspects, openness and intellect, one begins to see more fine-grained patterns of association. At the aspect level, openness is primarily associated with artistic creativity, and intellect is primarily associated with scientific creativity. This pattern of results points to the importance of attending to different traits within the openness/intellect trait domain as well as to the different domains in which creativity manifests.

Having established these relationships, researchers have begun to uncover the specific cognitive, motivational, and neurobiological mechanisms that may account for the link between creativity and openness/intellect. The cognitive processes divergent thinking, working memory, reduced latent inhibition, and implicit learning all share an association with both creativity and openness/ intellect. Motivational processes linking openness/intellect include cognitive exploration, the reward value of information, and inspiration. At the neural level, diffuse white matter connectivity in the prefrontal cortex and functional connectivity within the default network may underlie both openness/intellect and creativity. Finally, dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for exploration and reward, is implicated in both openness/intellect and creativity. An integrated understanding of the basic neurobiological processes that underlie individual differences in openness/intellect and creativity can shed light on the purpose and function of these traits for our species.

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