Open-mindedness is a characteristic that involves being receptive to a wide variety of ideas, arguments, and information. Being open-minded is generally considered a positive quality. It is a necessary ability in order to think critically and rationally. If you are not open to other ideas and perspectives, it is difficult to see all of the factors that contribute to problems or come up with effective solutions. In an increasingly polarized world, being able to step outside your comfort zone and consider other perspectives and ideas is important.
This doesn’t mean that being open-minded is necessarily easy. Being open to new ideas and experiences can sometimes lead to confusion and cognitive dissonance when we learn new things that conflict with existing beliefs. However, being able to change and revise outdated or incorrect beliefs is an important part of learning and personal growth.
If you want to be able to enjoy the benefits of being open-minded, there are things that you can do to build this ability.
What Does It Mean to Be Open-Minded?
There are a few different aspects to open-mindedness:
In everyday use, the term open-minded is often used as a synonym for being non-prejudiced or tolerant.
From a psychological perspective, the term is used to describe how willing people are to consider other perspectives or to try out new experiences.
Open-mindedness can also involve asking questions and being active about searching for information that challenges your beliefs.
It also encompasses the belief that other people should be free to express their beliefs and arguments, even if you do not necessarily agree with those views.
The opposite of open-minded is closed-minded or dogmatic. People who are more closed-minded are usually only willing to consider their own viewpoints and are not receptive to other ideas.
Even if you consider yourself a fairly open-minded person, there are probably certain topics on which you take a much harder stance. Things that you are passionate about or social issues, for example. Having convictions can be a great thing, but strong belief does not negate an open-mind. Being open-minded means having the ability to consider other perspectives and trying to be empathetic to other people, even when you disagree with them.
Of course, open-mindedness has its limits. It does not imply that you must sympathize every ideology. But making an effort to understand the factors that might have led to those ideas can be helpful in finding ways to persuade people to change their minds.
Characteristics of Open-Minded People
They are curious to hear what others think
They are able to have their ideas challenged
They don’t get angry when they are wrong
They have empathy for other people
They think about what other people are thinking
They are humble about their own knowledge and expertise
They want to hear what other people have to say
They believe others have a right to share their beliefs and thoughts
The Benefits of Being Open-Minded
What are some of the benefits of being more open-minded?
Gaining Insight: Challenging your existing beliefs and considering how new ideas can give you fresh insights not only about the world; it can also teach you new things about yourself.
Having New Experiences: Being open to other ideas can also open you up to new experiences.
Achieving Personal Growth: Keeping an open mind can help you grow as a person. You learn new things about the world and the people around you.
Becoming Mentally Strong: Staying open to new ideas and experiences can help you become a stronger, more vibrant person. Your experiences and knowledge continue to build on one another.
Feeling More Optimistic: One of the problems with staying closed-minded is that it often leads to a greater sense of negativity. Being open can help inspire a more optimistic attitude toward life and the future.
Learning New Things: It’s hard to keep learning when you surround yourself with the same old ideas. Pushing your boundaries and reaching out to people with different perspectives and experiences can help keep your mind fresh.
Factors That Influence Open-Mindedness
There are a number of things that can affect how open- or closed-minded a person is:
In the five-factor model of human personality, openness to experience is one of the five broad dimensions that make up human personality. This personality trait shares many of the same qualities with open-mindedness, such as being willing to consider new experiences and ideas and engaging in self-examination.
Research suggests that people expect experts to be more dogmatic about their area of expertise. When people feel that they are more knowledgeable or skilled in an area than other people, they are less likely to be open-minded.
Researchers have found that giving participants false positive or false negative feedback about their performance on a task influenced how closed-minded they were about considering an alternative political opinion.
Comfort With Ambiguity
People have varying levels of comfort when dealing with uncertainty. Too much ambiguity leaves people feeling uncomfortable and even distressed. Dogmatism is sometimes an attempt to keep things simpler and easier to understand. By rejecting alternative ideas that might challenge the status quo, people are able to minimize uncertainty and risk —or at least their perception of risk. Older research does support this idea, suggesting that people who are closed-minded are less able to tolerate cognitive inconsistencies.
While some of the factors that go into determining how open-minded you are might be inborn characteristics, there are things that you can do to cultivate a more open mindset.
How to Be More Open-Minded
Learning how to be more open-minded is possible, but it can be a bit of a challenge. In many ways, our minds are designed to view concepts as wholes. We develop an idea or a category of knowledge, which the psychologist Jean Piaget referred to as a schema. As we come across new information, we tend to want to sort it into one of our existing schemas in a mental process known as assimilation.
Sometimes, however, the new things we learned don’t quite fit in with what we already know. In this instance, we have to adjust our understanding of the world in a process known as accommodation. Essentially, we have to change how we think in order to deal with this new information.
Assimilation tends to be a fairly easy process; after all, you’re just filing new information into your existing filing system. Accommodation is more difficult. You’re not just putting something into an existing file; you’re creating a whole new filing system.
Sometimes new information requires rethinking the things you thought you knew. It requires reevaluating your memories and past experiences in light of what you’ve learned.
In order to do this, you have to be able to set aside your judgments, take a serious look at the existing evidence, and admit that you were wrong. That process can be difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful or life-changing.
It takes a lot of mental effort, but here are some of the things you can do to train your brain to be more open-minded.
Fight the Confirmation Bias
A cognitive tendency known as the confirmation bias can be one of the biggest contributors to closed-mindedness. Overcoming this tendency, however, can be a bit tricky. The confirmation bias involves paying more attention to things that confirm our existing beliefs, while at the same time discounting evidence that challenges what we think.
Being aware of the confirmation bias is perhaps one of the best ways to combat it. As you encounter information, take a moment to consider how this bias might affect how you evaluate the information. If it seems like you are readily accepting something because it supports your existing arguments, take a moment to consider some arguments that might challenge your ideas. Learning how to evaluate sources of information and learning how to be an informed consumer of scientific stories in the news can also be helpful.
Most people like to believe in their own sense of intellectual virtue. And in many ways, it is important to be able to have trust and faith in your own choices. But it is good to remember that what might seem like being resolute and committed to certain ideals may actually be a form of closed-minded stubbornness.
Part of being open-minded involves being able to question not just others, but also yourself. As you encounter new information, ask yourself a few key questions:
How much do you really know about the topic?
How trustworthy is the source?
Have you considered other ideas?
Do you have any biases that might be influencing your thinking?
In many cases, this sort of self-questioning might help deepen your commitment to your beliefs. Or it might provide insights that you hadn’t considered before.
Give It Time
When you hear something you disagree with, your first instinct may be to disagree or just shut down. Instead of listening or considering the other perspective, you enter a mode of thinking where you are just trying to prove the other person wrong, sometimes before you even have a chance to consider all of the points.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotional response you have to something. You disagree, you don’t like what you’ve heard, and you might even want the other person to know just how wrong they are. The problem with that sort of quick-draw response is that you are acting in the heat of the moment, not taking the time to really consider all aspects of the problem, and probably not arguing all that effectively.
The alternative is to give yourself a brief period to consider the arguments and evaluate the evidence. After you hear something, take a few moments to consider the following points before you respond:
Are your own arguments based upon multiple sources?
Are you willing to revise your opinion in the face of conflicting evidence?
Will you hold on to your opinion even if the evidence discounts it?
Open-mindedness requires more cognitive effort than dogmatism. Just being willing to consider other perspectives can be a challenge, but it can be even more difficult when you find yourself having to revise your own beliefs as a result.
Practice Intellectual Humility
Even if you are an expert on a topic, try to keep in mind that the brain is much more imperfect and imprecise than most of us want to admit. As the research has shown, being knowledgeable about something can actually contribute to closed-mindedness.
When people think that they are an authority on a topic or believe that they already know all there is to know, they are less willing to take in new information and entertain new ideas. This not only limits your learning potential, but it can also be an example of a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. This bias leads people to overestimate their own knowledge of a topic, making them blind to their own ignorance.
True experts tend to actually be more humble about their knowledge; they know that there is always more to learn. So if you think you know it all, chances are that you probably don’t.
As science communicator and television personality Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” Without an open mind, you’ll never have the opportunity to consider those other perspectives and experiences. You’ll never get to know what others know.
Being open-minded can be hard. It doesn’t help that our minds are often geared toward conserving cognitive energy by relying on shortcuts and simplification. Even if being open-minded does not come naturally to you, there are things that you can do to cultivate a receptive attitude that leaves you open to new perspectives, knowledge, people, and experiences.
By Kendra Cherry