A blog post on Bounded Openness

Recently I was fortunate to publish a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology with a bunch of co-authors (click on their names below!) on the association between openness to experience and intolerance. In this post, I’ll describe the study, why we think it’s interesting, and how it connects to some other work I’ve been doing. First things first: citation, abstract, and link to PDF.

Brandt, M. J., Chambers, J. R., Crawford, J. T., Wetherell, G., & Reyna, C. (in press). Bounded openness: The effect of openness to experience on intolerance is moderated by target group conventionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Openness to experience is consistently associated with tolerance. We suggest that tests of the association between openness to experience and tolerance have heretofore been incomplete because they have primarily focused on prejudice towards unconventional target groups. We test (1) the individual difference perspective, which predicts that because people who are high in openness are more open to diverse and dissimilar people and ideas, they will express more tolerance than people who are low in openness and (2) the worldview conflict perspective, which predicts that people high and low in openness will both be intolerant towards those with different worldviews. Four studies, using both conventional and unconventional target groups, find support for an integrative perspective. People high in openness do appear more tolerant of diverse worldviews compared to people low in openness; however, at the same time, people both high and low in openness are more intolerant of groups whose worldviews conflict with their own. These findings highlight the need to consider how individual difference variables and features of the target groups may interact in important ways to influence the expression of prejudice.

Link to PDF & official gated link

In this study we want to pick apart the relationship between openness and intolerance. Some work has used the association between openness and intolerance to suggest that some people (those high in openness) are more accepting and tolerant of those who are different from them. We noticed, however, that many of the groups used to study this effect are typically unconventional groups (i.e. not the majority, socially normative groups in a society). Given that people who are high in openness also don’t really like conventions, we thought that this might be more to do with the targets of intolerance sharing values with people high in openness rather than the inherent openness of people high in openness.

We looked at a variety of data to try and figure this out, including representative data from the American National Election Studies and data we collected on both Mechanical Turk and from undergraduate students. The results are a bit inconsistent across the different studies, but in general we found that the conventionality of the target group moderated the association between openness and intolerance. Sometimes this effect was stronger (e.g., Study 3, see Figure below) and sometimes it was weaker (Study 1), but overall it appears that people high in openness are not indiscriminately tolerant and people low in openness are not indiscriminately intolerant. Rather, people dislike people who are dissimilar to themselves (not a new observation…).

Figure5BrandtetalOpenness
Study 3 interaction between openness and target conventionality predicting intolerance

These studies were helpful to us because we’ve previously shown that both liberals and conservatives can be intolerant towards people they disagree with (.pdf). One objection to our finding and how it fits into the broader puzzle was that liberals are higher on openness and shouldn’t that make them a bit more tolerant? This made sense – at least to me – but now we see why liberals’ openness doesn’t lead to more tolerance: openness itself doesn’t necessarily lead to tolerance.

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