A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that a personality trait – openness to experience – changes what people see in the world. The worldview in the literal sense of the word. It makes them more likely to experience certain visual perceptions .
The Big 5
For the study, researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia recruited 123 volunteers and took the Big Five personality test, which measures extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience. . Specifically:
- Openness to experience (inventive / curious vs. consistent / cautious)
- Consciousness (efficient / organized vs. quirky / sloppy)
- Extraversion (sociable / energetic vs. lonely / reserved)
- Kindness (friendly / compassionate vs. defiant / insensitive)
- Neuroticism (susceptible / nervous vs. resistant / safe)
Openness to experience is a trait that involves creativity, imagination, and a willingness to try new things. So they tested everyone who experienced a visual perception phenomenon called ‘binocular rivalry’. This phenomenon occurs when each eye is shown a different image, in this case, a red patch on one eye and a green patch on the other.
Most people switch back and forth between the two incompatible images, as the brain can only perceive one at a time. But some people merge the two images into a unified red-green patch. Participants who scored higher in openness to the experience were more likely to perceive this combined image .
This makes sense, according to the researchers, because openness to new experiences is linked to creativity: the ability to combine two images seems like a creative solution to the problem presented by the two incompatible stimuli.
Although research suggests that personality affects the way we filter conscious experience, exactly how this process works is unclear. The authors speculate that the overlap of neurochemicals in the brain may link perception to personality .
A previous study also shows that those who obtain a high score in openness are less likely to experience blindness due to inattention: inability to notice an unexpected stimulus that is in the visual field when the person is performing other tasks that demand attention.