Our Personality Literally Changes How We See the World

People possessing openness can take diverging visual stimuli and combine them in a special way. 


Girl with a blue umbrella sees a Yin-Yang in the sky.
Getty Images.

Open-minded people literally see the world differently. That’s according to researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Scientists there gave volunteers a personality test. Then the participants had their “binocular rivalry” checked, to see if their visual perception was different, depending on their personality. What researchers found was that, in people with high levels of openness, their vision was different from their more closed-minded peers.

123 volunteers were given what is known as the big five personality test. This measures characteristics such as extroversion, conscientiousness, amiability, neuroticism, and openness. That last one is defined as the ability to incorporate new ideas, imaginativeness, and the willingness to take part in new experiences. Openness has been shown to predict a subject’s performance on certain tasks, the attainment of creative achievements, and one's ability to offer novel approaches to tough problems.

Next, each participant had a green patch projected into one eye and a red one into the other. This was to evaluate their binary rivalry. The brain can only process one visual stimulus at a time. So in this case, participant’s usually find that their perception flips back and forth maddeningly, from red to green and back again. However, in this study, they discovered something strange.

How we see the world may be different, depending upon how open-minded we are. Getty Images.

Those subjects who had a high level of openness were able to perceive a unified image, a green-red continuum. Researchers called this phenomenon “rivalry suppression.” It was almost like, the body itself came up with a creative solution to the problem of conflicting stimuli.

Three identical experiments were run, each with the same result. Those who were more open-minded were more likely to see the red-green continuum and to witness it for longer periods. Also, when open-minded people were in a better mood, the kind known to boost creativity, they also saw the continuum for longer. This is the first empirical evidence suggesting that open-minded people experience visual perception differently than others, according to Anna Antinori, the lead author in this study.

We are constantly surrounded by sensory input. The mind has to filter out the noise and choose what to focus on. Among the open-minded, “The ‘gate’ that lets through the information that reaches consciousness may have a different level of flexibility,” Dr. Antinori said. “Open people appear to have a more flexible gate and let through more information than the average person.”

Another aspect may be “inattentional blindness.” This is when we’re so preoccupied concentrating on something, that we miss something obvious going on in the background. Studies in personality are still surprisingly new. Beyond the obvious, we still don’t know how one’s personality is formed and what forces shape it.

See a great example of inattentional blindness here:

Researchers say that it may be a confluence of neurochemical reactions that interpret our visual perception and link it to our outlook on reality, even our personality. “Thus the abundance of the same neurochemical,” Dr. Antinori said, “Or lack thereof, may affect both one’s personality and low-level vision.”

It also may mean that humans have more flexibility in our personality than we assume. We often think of it as a fixed thing. Antinori and colleagues say that there are many things that can make you more creative including: taking part in novel experiences, living overseas, taking the hallucinogenic psilocybin—found in “magic mushrooms” (not that they’re condoning it), practicing certain psychological exercises, and even taking part in meditation.

Taking part in novel experiences can boost your creativity. Getty Images. 

Of course, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. According to Niko Tiliopoulous, of the University of Sydney, too much openness can make one paranoid and prone to delusions. “At those levels of openness, people may actually see reality differently,” he said. “For example, they may ‘see’ spirits, or misinterpret interpersonal or other signals.”

Could our perception of reality and even our vision, change, as a result of personality changes, taking hold? A lot more research will be required to know for sure. Openness seems to change how consciousness is filtered through the brain. But how it does this will be the topic of extensive study for some time. According Dr. Antinori, “It may be possible that a change in people’s personality may also affect how they see the world.”

To learn more about one of the ways you can become more creative, click here: 

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