The Cambridge Dictionary defines open-minded as, "willing to listen to other people and consider new ideas, suggestions, and opinions."

Everyone has family members or friends who are more open- or closed-minded. As the definition suggests, a good indication of open-mindedness is whether you feel heard by that person ... or whether you want to tear your hair out from the hopeless desperation that comes from engaging with someone who doesn't listen.

As it turns out, science says there are more advantages to being open-minded than just not driving family members batty at Thanksgiving.

Open-minded people have an enhanced ability to change their perspectives on things, and demonstrate more growth over time. They're also more ready to embrace novelty--new people, new places, new experiences.

In other words, they see the world as a place to be explored, a place they're willing to let change them, a place of curiosity and potential growth. They don't have their mind totally made up.

This is particularly important in the business world, where flexibility and the ability to actually listen to others matters. When a team member or client feels truly heard, magic happens. And all good leaders know the ability to listen and take multiple viewpoints into account is a valuable-bordering-on-critical skill.

Now, new research suggests that those who are open-minded actually see the world differently.

Here's how this worked: Researchers gave participants five major personality tests to measure their levels of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

Then they tested the participants' "binocular rivalry." Basically, this means how much you split your focus between two images shown to you at the same time. As the Harvard Vision Lab explains it, "[w]hen two different images are presented to the two eyes simultaneously, you are only conscious of one of the two images at a time - one is dominant, the other is suppressed."

To test this, the researchers kept things simple: They showed participants a red square in one eye, and a green one in the other. Some people saw only red or green at a time; others could merge the two into one big red/green square.

Guess who was more open-minded?

That's right--the people who were literally able to take two perspectives into account at the same time.

Want to test your own open-mindedness? Focus on the red and green boxes here. If you tend to alternate between the red and green, you're more closed-minded. If your mind can merge the two together, you're more likely to score higher on openness tests:

The researchers also cited previous studies that show that open-minded people actually get more information from the world in general. As the study's lead author put it, "The 'gate' that lets through the information that reaches consciousness may have a different level of flexibility ... Open people appear to have a more flexible gate and let through more information than the average person."

Thus, because they have a distinct way of filtering sensory information (as opposed to more closed-minded individuals), they are able to glean more from people and situations.

It's likely not just on an emotional or psychological level, either. As stated in the conclusion of the study, "Just as open people are often described as being able to 'see' more opportunities when presented with familiar objects (Silvia et al., 2008), we provide the first evidence that they may literally also 'see' more possibilities."


"Without an open-minded mind, you can never be a great success." -- Martha Stuart

Published on: Jun 14, 2017
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of