Personality Neuroscience #5: The biological causes of Openness

This is Part 5 of our series on Personality Neuroscience. Click here to read from the beginning.

Openness is a Big Five trait that explains an individual’s tendency to explore and create new experiences, often manifesting in curiosity, imagination, perception, and creativity.


Openness has two known sub-traits (DeYoung, 2016):

  • Intellect, which refers to cognitive engagement with abstract information and ideas.
  • Openness to experience, which refers to cognitive engagement with perceptual and sensory information.

Overall, there is less known about the underlying causes of Openness than other traits like Extraversion and Neuroticism. We do, however, have a decent undertanding of which brain structures and systems are involved...

Working memory

Openness is the only one of the Big Five traits that is positively associated with working memory ability.

Your working memory is responsible for holding information temporarily for processing, and it is crucial for guiding your decision-making and behavior.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a big role in Extraversion, but also is highly likely to influence Openness. Here's how...


You may have heard of the prefrontal cortex already. It's the part of your brain that helps you with executive functions - planning, decision-making, and expressing yourself socially.

Working memory has been linked to higher dopamine activity in the prefrontal cortex. Thus, it can be also associated with high levels of Openness.

Latent inhibition

Contrary to working memory, Openness is negatively associated with latent inhibition.

Latent inhibition explains what happens when we "get used to" familiar stimuli (sights, tastes, feelings, sounds, smells, routines). When you are familiar with a stimulus, you tend to ignore the details that you would otherwise pay attention to if it was new.


The VTA (ventral tegmental area) is the region of your brain that is most important for your motivations and internal reward system. High dopamine activity this region has been linked to low latent inhibition, and thus high Openness.

Next, we'll go over the neurobiological causes of Conscientiousness.

Want to learn about your personality
and what comes naturally to you?

Free Personality Test
Recommended posts
Personality Tests
Best Enneagram Test: 2020
With so many Enneagram tests out there, it can be overwhelming to find the best one for you. To make it easier to find your Enneagram type, we’ve compiled a list of the 6 best Enneagram tests online.
(read more)
Personality Tests
Best Personality Test: 2019
With so many personality tests out there, it can feel a bit overwhelming to start on the journey to better understanding yourself.
(read more)
Personality AI
The Personality Behind WeWork's Downfall
At the start of 2019, WeWork was on top of the world. It was valued at nearly $47 billion and crowned one of the fastest growing, most valuable startups in recent history. It’s founder and CEO, Adam Neumann, was soaring as well, preparing to take his co-working empire public, which would make him a billionaire several times over. The company was growing at a historically rapid pace, doubling over the last year to over half a million members renting desks at WeWork locations in 111 cities globally. Revenues were compounding as well, on track to surpass $3 billion at the end of the year. 
(read more)
Big Five vs 16-Personality
Personality assessments seem to be all the rage lately. Instagram accounts, Subreddits, and Facebook groups centered around different personality types have all formed and they’re gaining plenty of traction.
(read more)
Hobbies for Your DISC Type
I was recently reminded of the excitement of my childhood after-school activities when I passed by a group of four-foot-tall seven-year-olds kicking a soccer ball back and forth in the park.
(read more)
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex: How Personality Affected Her Relationship with the Press
The war on Meghan’s personality by the British tabloids has been one of the main tensions in the Sussex family for the last few years. It is what led them to sue the DailyMail in October of 2019 and, ultimately, leave the Royal Family in January of 2020. 
(read more)
Which Parks and Rec Character Are You?
Over the course of its 7 season run, Parks and Rec (recreation) became a major hit.
(read more)
Nature vs Nurture
From the time we’re children, we begin to question why we act in certain ways. The older we get, the more serious those questions become.
(read more)