Chapter 3: Openness to experience – the exploration dimension – From Fear to Flow


Openness to experience – the exploration dimension


The personality dimension most strongly related to exploration and joy of discovery is openness to experience. Persons with high openness are born with a natural curiosity. This makes them eagerly investigate everything that brings them new experiences, from sensations, tastes, music, art or culture to intellectual stimulation such as new ideas and viewpoints. Open persons generally have a broad invitational attitude towards information and welcome it in any context, whether it is purposefully searched out or incidentally encountered. Their way to collect information is spontaneous, flexible and creative, with use of a wide variety of information sources. When the time comes to make use of what they have found, they continue in the same innovative manner by applying information in original and imaginative ways. New information feeds their intellectual curiosity, stimulates their need to reflect and experience, and rewards them with the delight of fresh insights.

An open searcher explains his view in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1 The open searcher

Open persons tend to be curious, like to try on new things and have broad, often cultural, interests. They are typically liberal, drawn to the unexpected, welcoming of cognitive challenges and questioning of old notions (Costa and McCrae, 1992). Not only are they intellectual but also inventive – a victorious combination of creativity and ease in learning from which they benefit in many contexts. In brief, one might say that openness to experience is a measure of depth, breadth and variability in imagination, intelligence and urge for experiences. While open persons have a rich and vivid imagination, closed persons are more practical and down to earth. People with low openness to experience also tend to be conventional, hesitant and prefer familiar routines.

A conservative searcher describes her approach to information in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2 The conservative searcher

Open information interaction

Innovation, creativity, open-mindedness and tolerance for ambiguity – all aspects that refer to an invitational attitude towards new ideas – have been linked to broad, varied and active information seeking (see e.g. Dollinger et al., 2005; Flynn et al., 2006; Heinström, forthcoming; Jacobsen, 1998; Janssen, 2000; Palmer, 1991b; Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981; Schmit et al., 1993; Tan and Zhao, 2003). This finding is not surprising given that open-minded persons enjoy exploration and intellectual stimulation. Both the cognitive need to know and the emotional enjoyment of discovery are interwoven in open persons’ curiosity. Openness may thus inspire varied and active information seeking due to the goal of the search: discovering new viewpoints. The more information one works through, the stronger is the likelihood of encountering previously unknown thoughts and ideas. Open persons are moreover particularly interested in unconventional and imaginative information sources. In the early days of the internet, those with a positive attitude towards novelty were among the first to try this new medium (Finley and Finley, 1996). In addition, open persons are drawn to intellectually stimulating environments which provide a stronger likelihood of discovery. Their wide interests and many experiences expose them to a multitude of impressions, which in turn implicitly may lead to broader and more varied information acquisition. Open persons are also highly receptive. They do not only actively seek out new ideas and impulses, but may be more likely to notice them when they accidentally run into them. Last but not least, when they have collected the wanted information open persons often make creative use of the information they have acquired.

To sum up, open persons’ active, varied and innovative information interaction may be linked to the following mechanisms:

 a general attentiveness and invitational attitude – openness to new impressions

 a broad, unrestricted goal in information seeking – openness to new content

 an imaginative and creative way to seek information – openness to new sources

 a high exposure to varied situations and contexts – openness to new encounters

 a creative way to interpret and make use of information – openness to new implementation.

Innovation and discovery

The curiosity, tolerance and investigation typical of open persons manifest themselves in many contexts. Open persons enjoy intellectual stimulation, exploration of new ideas and making new discoveries. Consequently, openness to experience often instigates active and broad information seeking.

Kirton (1989) found that people tend to approach problem-solving, decision-making and creativity in two opposite ways, either by innovation or by adaption. Adaptors tend to solve their problems and base their decisions on what already exists in the form of generally recognized theories and policies. Innovators, on the other hand, make new paths and construct their own models. They are typically risk-taking, charismatic, achievement-oriented, enduring, dedicated and confident (Howell and Higgins, 1990). New ideas and practices are particularly attractive to them. Rather than automatically assuming that the present paradigm would be correct and helpful, they question and challenge it. While the large majority are skeptical and cautious of novelties, innovators are the ones who rebel, question and strive to challenge, invent and bring about change (Rogers, 1964). Adaptors ensure stability and bring development forward by building on and improving what is already there. They are more guided by their left brain hemisphere, whereas innovators have a dominating right hemisphere (Kirton, 1989). One may say that while innovators want to do things differently, adaptors want to do things better. Adaptors tend to be dogmatic, withdrawn, conscientious and anxious while innovators are open to new influences, extroverted and confident (previous research reviewed in Kirton, ibid.). If these personality descriptions are filtered through the five-factor model (Costa and McCrae, 1992), the trait combination of adaptors could be listed as nervousness, introversion, conservativeness and conscientiousness, while a combination of openness to experience, extroversion and emotional stability would be characteristic for innovators.

Innovators have been shown to be enthusiastic information seekers who consult a wide variety of sources (Jacobsen, 1998; Palmer, 1991b). As an example we can take scientists. Those researchers who are particularly creative and innovative often welcome information from a wide range of sources, with a particular flavor for interdisciplinary findings (Kasperson, 1978; Palmer, 1991b). Their most valued information sources tend to be conferences, workshops and websites, all of which are essential to discover the latest breakthroughs (Jacobsen, 1998). Innovators also often consult people as information sources (Kasperson, 1978). Seeking out unconventional information is often followed by innovative interpretations and solutions, and may lead to breakthrough discoveries (Cole, 1993; Lumpkin and Erdogan, 2004; Tegano, 1990). Openness to experience may thus also inspire creative ways to interpret and apply information.

By using another measure of openness, tolerance of ambiguity, similar results have been found. Persons with high tolerance of ambiguity are in general expansive and look for excitement and adventure. They tend to investigate more alternatives and more information than those who are cautious (Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981). Those with low tolerance of ambiguity, in turn, strive for harmony and security, just like adaptors do. They also tend to be vulnerable to social pressure and authority, prone to conformity and doubt their abilities (ibid.). While tolerant, innovative and open persons tend to employ an unrestrained search approach, cautious, adapting and conservative persons tend to be more controlled, methodical and systematic in their searches (Palmer, 1991b).

Critical evaluation is becoming increasingly important as the amount of information continues to expand in the information society. Personality traits that have been related to critical thinking are inquisitiveness, systematical thinking, analyticity, truth seeking, self-confidence and maturity (Facione et al., 1995). Innovators are often critical thinkers who try to come up with alternative solutions (Brookfield, 1987). Persons with high openness are likewise unconventional and prepared to question authorities. They approach life with a curious and interested, yet questioning and reflective attitude (Costa and McCrae, 1992). These characteristics form a good basis for critical analysis of arguments and viewpoints, as well as information and new ideas (Blickle, 1996; Schouwenburg, 1995). Furthermore, open persons’ various interests and expansive information seeking facilitate their critical evaluation. A broad overall awareness of differences in interpretation, content and quality makes it easier to reflect critically. In other words, although open persons are liberal and tolerant, this does not mean that they will readily accept whatever comes along. Instead their open-mindedness comes with an analytical ability, a basic questioning attitude, that is at the same time inviting and skeptical. This makes them thoughtful information seekers with an aptitude for critical reflection.

Openness to experience has been related to the sensationintuition scale of the Myers-Briggs framework (Myers and McCauley, 1985), where intuitiveness has been connected to high openness and sensing to conservativeness (MacDonald et al., 1994; McCrae and Costa, 1989; Furnham et al., 2003). Intuitive persons enjoy solving problems and investigating new discoveries, but dislike devoting time to precise work. They tend to be broadminded and expansive in their way of thinking. This shines through also when it comes to their information interaction. Within an online learning environment it was shown that intuitive persons often reflected on abstract ideas and concepts in relation to the course content. They foremost consulted information to get an overall understanding of the topic. In other words, they lifted the course content to a higher level and wanted to get a broad picture of it. In contrast, sensing persons tended to prioritize useful, matter-of-fact information which helped them resolve the tasks they worked on (Russell, 2002). Sensing persons overall rely on routines and traditional knowledge. They are exact and precise, and like to apply known skills. This further confirms that practical persons foremost have a down-to-earth approach to information seeking, while open persons tend to have a more abstract and reflective mindset.

Joy of learning

Openness, creativity and interest in learning seem to induce active information seeking among university students (Dollinger et al., 2005; Heinström, 2005). This attitude lives on in a work environment, where curious and open-minded employees are eager to investigate and learn (Janssen, 2000; Tan and Zhao, 2003). Extroversion and openness to experience tend to lead to active feedback seeking (asking your boss or your colleagues to evaluate your job performance) rather than information seeking (finding out about work tasks, job duties, procedures, etc.) in a socialization process. Extroverts usually focus almost solely on seeking feedback, while open persons also tend to seek for job-related information, although not quite as eagerly as they desire feedback (Wanberg and Kammeyer-Mueller, 2000). When it comes to their own well-being, open persons are equally eager to understand and learn. One study showed that out of the five-factor-model trait dimensions, those with high openness were the most active in investigating health issues on the internet (Flynn et al., 2006). This interest was unrelated to their own health status, and instead suggested an overall curiosity and interest in knowing more about themselves and the world they live in. Those with high negative affectivity also frequently seek for health information online (ibid.), but they are more active in response to a health concern rather than due to an overall interest in new information and understanding.

Curious and open-minded persons often feel excited when they seek information. In a study of mature students’ information seeking, one student with high openness to experience exclaimed: ‘I love searching, I get a kick out of finding information. It is like a treasure hunt, where you can find something you didn’t know existed’ (Heinström, forthcoming). This illustrates one of the essential and distinctive trademarks of open persons’ exploration, namely the joy of discovery. Innovative, open and creative people with high levels of intellectual curiosity tend to be process-oriented, and enjoy exploring texts that bring them new ideas and insights (ibid.; Jacobsen, 1998; Kirton, 1989; Palmer, 1991b). They do not let the search goal overshadow the process of looking, but instead enjoy the lingering excitement of not knowing. The more new and unexpected findings they encounter, the merrier. They also prefer to receive a wide range of more or less relevant documents instead of only a few precise ones on the topic (Heinström, 2002). This broad range and variety increase the likelihood of the discoveries they crave. Side by side with the emotional joy of exploration comes an intellectually curiosity to find out more. It has been shown that there is a direct connection between the degree of involvement and interest in a topic and the urge for complex and profound information (Dunn, 1986). Open persons therefore enjoy thought-provoking texts and unpredicted findings more than anything else (Heinström, 2006b). In fact, open persons’ creative, imaginative and unconventional character often draws them to investigative and artistic professions where they can make use of their creativity and interest in discovery (Barrick et al., 2003).

Intuitive decision-making

Openness does not seem to inspire active information seeking in all contexts, however. When it comes to decision-making, persons with high openness to experience may direct their attention outwards towards suggestions and information in their environment, but they may also look inwards and rely more on their own self-reflection. In a career choice situation open persons at times actively seek out information in order to make an informed choice (Kracke and Schmitt-Rodermund, 2001). Occasionally, they would nonetheless rather use self-exploration and imagery as a basis for their decision (Reed et al., 2004). This may seem contradictory to open persons’ usually active and broad information seeking. One possible way to reconcile these notions is to look at imagination as an information source. This information is not tangible, nor does it come from the outside, but one can certainly argue that it is a creative information source. It is also one that open persons master par excellence. They have an exceptional ability to conceive and live out various options in their mind’s eye. This feeds their thinking and problem-solving processes, often resulting in innovative and original solutions and artistic creations. This alternative way of thinking may for instance be useful in a career decision context, where open students investigate their own aptitudes and likings by imagining themselves in various career situations rather than attempting to find out objective vocational facts (ibid.). Similarly, Harren’s (1979) intuitive decision-making style describes decision-makers who rely more on self-awareness and emotional factors than on information seeking and rational considerations in their career choice process. Either strategy may be effective, since openness to experience correlates with career decidedness (Lounsbury et al., 2005). Open persons may also be more comfortable with uncertainty and risk-taking, and therefore less compelled to investigate career options from all possible angles. They have for instance been shown to seek out little information as newcomers to a work situation (Tidwell and Sias, 2005).

Incidental information acquisition

Incidental information acquisition is particularly relevant to discuss in conjunction with invitational, creative and active information seeking. Browsing and incidental discovery are both processes that reduce cognitive load but demand attentiveness (Marchionini, 1995). One of the central elements in incidental information acquisition is thus the ability to recognize potentially relevant information.

Full comprehension of serendipity is a contradiction in terms. Unpredictability and surprise lie in its very core. But this does not justify neglecting its role in information retrieval. It is important to acknowledge and understand the occurrence of incidental information acquisition for a realistic and holistic view of information behavior, where we occasionally plan and retrieve, and at times explore and discover.

We constantly consciously and unconsciously select which messages we react to, process and ultimately store. The more emotions an experience triggers, the more likely it is to be noticed. Every information-gathering process thus starts at a fundamental sensory level when the information piece is spotted (Burgin, 2001). How much attention we pay to a message depends on how strongly it matches our interests, how familiar the topic is to us, how motivated we are or how strongly we respond to it emotionally (Lang et al., 2002). There must be something in the message, something surprising, something familiar, something that rings a bell within us, before we notice it. Surprising or threatening information thus evokes particularly strong and instinctive reactions. This explains why headlines with unexpected content catch attention and are remembered for a longer time (ibid.; Shoemaker, 1996). Most of the stimuli that surround us pass unnoticed. Who knows how much potentially useful information we might have run into but overlooked simply because we did not pay attention? Attention is thus crucial for incidental information acquisition.

Personality traits have long been acknowledged as making certain persons more ‘serendipity-prone’ (Merton and Barber, 2004). Serendipitous discoverers tend to share characteristics like sagacity, awareness, curiosity, flexible thinking and persistence (Roberts, 1989). An invitational and open information attitude with receptivity to the unexpected is particularly important (Heeter and Greenberg, 1985). Incidental information acquisition, browsing and wide, enthusiastic information exploration seem particularly common among outgoing and spontaneous persons who crave variation (Heinström, 2006c). Open students have an inherent ‘environmental scanning’ in their curiosity and invitational attitude towards life, which would explain why they often discover useful information by chance. Similarly, openness has been linked to opportunity recognition in an entrepreneurial context (Shane et al., undated). There are consequently many reasons to believe that open persons would be particularly susceptible to incidental information acquisition. But what has research shown us regarding this relation? Looking through studies that have explored the matter it does not take long to realize that this is a controversial issue.

Research has found a relation between openness to experience and incidental information acquisition, but it has also revealed a lack of it. Some studies have showed that curious, persistent, innovative and outgoing persons have enhanced receptivity for incidental information acquisition. Open persons often find useful information unexpectedly through unrelated web surfing, discussions with friends, reading the newspaper or watching TV (Heinström, 2002). Curious, adventure-seeking persons with a wide range of interests are other frequent encounterers of useful information (Erdelez, 1997). Others studies have, however, failed to find a strong connection between openness to experience and incidental information acquisition (Heinström, 2006c). One possibility is that mere openness in itself is not enough, unless supported by other characteristics. Openness to experience may be what lies behind the actual recognition of potentially useful information when it is incidentally encountered, but perhaps reaching this point requires the energetic information seeking of active and outgoing persons. The connection, or lack thereof, between openness to experience and incidental acquisition leaves questions worthy of further investigation.


One clue as to why openness to experience triggers investigation and active information seeking lies in its connection to curiosity. In the following we will take a closer look at curiosity and the mechanisms behind it, as it may provide new insights to information interaction.

Within library and information studies the trigger of information seeking has predominantly been depicted as something negative, a gap or an unpleasant lack of understanding. This troubling and stressful sentiment would activate information seeking in order to regain confidence and balance. Critical voices have been raised against this conception, however, arguing that information seeking is as likely to be spurred by a positive motivation as by a negative deficit (Kari and Hartel, 2007). Instead of talking in terms of a shortage, such as gap, lack or need, one might instead point to what is a drive, an interest or a curiosity. It turns out that both parties may be on to something, and may be equally right. An integrative theory of curiosity poses that it has both a negative connotation, such as a troubling lack of understanding, and a positive one, such as an interest to explore (Litman and Jimerson, 2004). A similar notion may certainly apply to information seeking as well.

Epistemic curiosity, a desire for new information, may be experienced as a positive anticipation and excitement, but also as a pressing and unsettling feeling of being at a loss (ibid.). Curiosity as a feeling of interest and curiosity as a feeling of deprivation are linked, but constitute separate dimensions characterized by specific cognitive and affective states. They correspond to two neurobiological systems, liking and wanting, that appear to drive motivation. The systems are connected but operate through different neural paths and may therefore be activated simultaneously as well as independently (Litman, 2005). People do not only differ when it comes to their general level of curiosity but also in the extent to which they experience it as a state of interest or a state of deprivation (Litman and Jimerson, 2004). Some may conceive curiosity foremost as a thrilling adventure, and others as an ego threat of not knowing (Litman et al., 2005). Both curiosity as a feeling of interest and curiosity as a feeling of deprivation generate information seeking (ibid.).

Curiosity as a feeling of interest is triggered when a person enjoys new discoveries. This type of curiosity is linked with neurological liking (Litman, 2005). One theory that supports the view of curiosity as a global positive interest is the optimal arousal model. It describes curiosity as a positive emotional-motivational system that drives and energizes (ibid.; Peterson and Seligman, 2004). According to this theory a trait-curious person enjoys learning new things and finds a positive aspect worthy of exploration in every situation. Curiosity is a similar sensation to appreciation of beauty, positive emotionality, sense of humor, vitality and mastery-oriented achievement motivation (Litman, 2005, 2008; Litman and Jimerson, 2004). This mode of curiosity has, not surprisingly, been linked to openness to experience, intrinsic motivation and experience seeking (Kashdan, 2004).

Curiosity as a feeling of interest triggers a lingering exploration, where every step along the way is an enjoyable one. This is not the case with curiosity as deprivation. This is far from a pleasant experience, and the road is covered with tension and frustration. The need is pressing, the patience low, and the only thing that matters is reaching the outcome of the search with improved understanding and a final elimination of the burden of uncertainty (Litman and Jimerson, 2004). Curiosity as a feeling of deprivation is activated when a person confronts a lack of important information which s/he needs in order to understand and solve a problematic situation, or find out an answer or a fact. According to the curiosity-as-a-drive theory, a novel, complex or ambiguous situation triggers unpleasant uncertainty. As this state is disturbing, people turn to information in order to regain a feeling of control and safety (Berlyne, 1954). Wanting activates approach behavior, and is linked with a desire for reward (Litman, 2005). This form of curiosity is often depicted as an instinct or imbalance in the homeostatic system that causes discomfort until satisfied (Reeve, 2001). Curiosity may also be regarded as an attempt to reach an optimal level of arousal. Underaroused and bored organisms would hence try to recapture their optimal arousal state by investigating interesting stimuli in their environment (Berlyne, 1967).

Simply enjoying learning does not contain the same potential for frustration as a pressing need to solve a problem. Not surprisingly, then, curiosity as a feeling of deprivation has been linked with negative emotionality (Litman and Jimerson, 2004). This compelling drive to find out is typical for persistent persons who have a high need to feel competent. In addition it is characteristic for those who suffer from high trait anxiety, trait depression or trait anger, and find it difficult to tolerate unsolvable problems (ibid.). Curiosity as deprivation has moreover been linked with general traits of tension, dissatisfaction and anger, such as failure-avoidant achievement, need for orderliness and Type A behavior – i.e. a constant sense of stress and urgency (Litman, 2005). It is noteworthy that curiosity as interest shows no connection to these negative experiences, but instead to a more relaxed joy of learning (Litman, 2008). In an information-seeking context it has likewise been shown that persons with high openness to experience enjoy the process of discovering new information, while persons who are very achievement-oriented foremost focus on the end result (Heinström, 2006c).

Tip-of-the-tongue experience

Curiosity on the verge of discovery tends to feel unpleasant (Litman et al., 2005). Being close to a solution triggers intense and tension-filled states dominated by a pressing need to conclude. ‘Tip-of-tongue’ experiences, when you are just about to remember something but cannot quite reach the memory, are therefore often unpleasant and distressing (ibid.). This experience can be compared to the focus formulation stage of the information search process (Kuhlthau, 2004). A process of seeking information for a project, such as an essay or a presentation, tends to be accompanied by both positive and negative emotions. A lingering curiosity as a desire to know reminds us of the exploration stage when searchers begin to familiarize themselves with a topic. The anxiety and irritation of the tip-of-tongue experience, again, resemble the next stage where there is a pressing and frustrating need to find the essential focal point. In the information search process, anxiety and frustration tend to rise just before a person forms a focus. The searcher is aware that he/she is at a loss among an overflow of information, alternatives and possibilities, and has a high need for closure (ibid.). This pressing and anxiety-ridden experience reminds us of curiosity as deprivation, which culminates in the tip-of-tongue experience (Litman et al., 2005). In both cases the feeling of information overload is bothersome, and there is a need to find the key solution or focal point.


The willingness to take risks is an important factor to consider when discussing the influence of personality on information behavior. It comes as no surprise to hear that the more risk-taking a person is, the less likely he/she is to consult information sources before embarking on new adventures. In contrast, a more guarded person would likely investigate a situation from every possible angle before taking any major leap. Risk-seeking and gambling versus risk-aversion and caution may therefore have a major impact on how much and what kind of information a person consults under unclear and uncertain conditions. Risk-taking is particularly relevant in conjunction with openness to experience, since open persons generally are more risk-taking than average (Lauriola and Levin, 2001).

Generalized risk-takers are often impulsive, sensation seeking, aggressive and outgoing. They thrive on the high arousal they obtain through varied, new and intensive experiences (Zuckerman, 1994). The unknown is the draw and stimulation for them, and the more uncertain the situation is, the more thrilling. Impulsive risk-takers are not too concerned with lack of prior information or experience related to the risky situation, and consequently see no need to consult information prior to taking a plunge (Ferguson and Valenti, 1991). They spontaneously throw themselves into exciting situations without much consideration for possible consequences (Zuckerman and Kuhlman, 2000). Their counterparts, dogmatic, conservative persons with more self-control, try to seek out as much information as possible, as they prefer to play on the safe side. Similarly, those with high negative affectivity generally prefer safer bets (Lauriola and Levin, 2001). As we will see in Chapter 7, negative affectivity also overall tends to induce a careful and prudent analysis of information. Impulsivity is another factor that may be decisive in this context. High impulsivity generally stimulates risk-taking, while low impulsivity may result in an exaggerated analysis and evaluation of alternatives (Dahlbäck, 1990). Risk preference also plays out when it comes to information content. Risk-seeking individuals are more likely to consider information that describes perilous options than those who are risk-averse (McDougal, 1995). The information content they look for thus mirrors their general acceptance and tolerance of risk.

Cautious information interaction

We saw that high openness to experience leads to a broad and invitational information attitude. How, then, would low openness influence information interaction? Not surprisingly, in an opposite way. Just as openness may influence both the goal of information seeking and the way it is executed, so may its counterpart, conservativeness, render the opposite tendencies. Conservative persons foremost approach information acquisition in a practical, task-focused and down-to-earth fashion. Both search styles have their own benefits and drawbacks, dependent on the context and what the situation requires.

It has long been acknowledged that open persons are more likely to seek out new information than those with a closed mind (Rokeach, 1960). An early overview suggested that the personality traits which most strongly inspire active information seeking are low trait anxiety, flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity, need for clarity and self-esteem (Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981). Rigid persons tend to approach life in a controlled and predictable manner, and would therefore be less accepting of alterations. Influences from the outside, such as new information or unexpected news, could potentially disrupt their balance and control, and as a consequence they would avoid them (Long and Ziller, 1965; Rokeach, 1960). Shutting out information allows the person to maintain a stable conceptual system with less inner demand for change (Long and Ziller, 1965). One situation in which this was evident was during a political power shift where conservative persons appeared indifferent to the situation. Open-minded persons were often in opposition to authorities and had an active interest in renewal and transformation; consequently they would seek out information related to the power shift. In contrast, conservative persons who preferred stability and often felt obedient towards the authorities remained passive and were less interested in learning more Domachowski, 1983).

Similarly, dogmatic persons with low self-esteem and those intolerant of ambiguity have been shown to prefer information that supports their previous viewpoint (Clarke and James, 1967; McPherson, 1983). This attitude resembles that of persons who are closed to experience. Typical for them is to prefer things to remain as they have always been (Costa and McCrae, 1992). This is reflected in their information behavior, where they tend to prefer information content that substantiates their previous understanding of a topic, instead of novel and inventive findings (Heinström, 2002). Little openness in character is accordingly manifested in little openness to new information. Holding on to previous conceptions may provide a sense of safety. It has for instance been shown that authoritative persons actively work against attitude change in threatening situations by looking for information that confirms their previous viewpoints. Less authoritative persons would rather be on the look-out for a more balanced and objective view of what has occurred (Lavine et al., 2005). This preference for confirmation of familiar knowledge can be compared to adaptors, who generally are reluctant to entertain new ideas and conservative in character (Kirton, 1989). Overall one might say that when information symbolizes control and a means to avoid unpleasant changes, conservative persons would look for it in order to strengthen their position further. When status quo is more likely obtained through passivity, they would be less active. They would hence either investigate a situation or avoid information, depending on which route they deem more likely to help them sustain the stability and balance they strive for. Conservative persons consequently look for information in order to reduce risk and resist change.

For dogmatic persons ambiguity may be stressful, thus they particularly avoid inconsistent information (Donohew et al., 1972). They additionally know that new information may potentially disturb their present beliefs and disrupt the status quo they wish to maintain. Consequently they make decisions based on what they already know, and avoid further exploration of the matter (Long and Ziller, 1965). This has been shown for instance regarding pre-purchase information seeking, where dogmatic persons consult only a minimal amount of information (Lambert and Durand, 1977). While persons with high openness to experience rely on their own independent analyses when they need to make a choice, those with low openness tend to base their decisions on time-tested conventional wisdom (Matthews, 2008). This holds true even regarding their own well-being. Persons who are conservative tend to refrain from seeking out information or making independent decisions regarding their own health (Braman and Gomez, 2004). Persons with high openness, on the other hand, often prefer active involvement in the decision-making process (Flynn and Smith, 2007). In situations where fast decisions are needed, dogmatism may be advantageous, as dogmatic persons do not waste time on excessive information seeking. On other occasions, however, closing out information may be problematic and result in decisions based on insufficient information (Long and Ziller, 1965).

When cautious persons cannot avoid information seeking, as in looking for information for a study assignment, they prefer to retrieve only a few precise references related the topic, instead of a wide range of somewhat related documents. They feel no need to explore the search topic from many viewpoints, but instead strive for a clear-cut result right on target. Low openness to experience thus instigates a cautious information attitude which is narrow in content aim as well as in conduct (Heinstrom, 2003). A precise search result is less likely to offer new and challenging ideas, which is exactly what the conservative wants to avoid.

Those who are guarded against novelty also tend to feel tense while searching. Conservative persons are, as a rule, noticeably focused on the goal of a search, and consequently they wish to arrive at the end-goal as soon as possible. They have a higher need for closure and only feel satisfied when they find the desired information. This can be compared to open persons, who thrive on and enjoy the very process of seeking while it is still ongoing (Heinström, 2006c).

Typical for dogmatic persons is to be anxious and concerned (Rokeach, 1960). Striving to remain balanced and hold on to status quo in a world which is constantly changing may indeed be disquieting, not least in today’s information world where it is getting increasingly difficult to avoid the constant bombardment of news and new developments. It would seem plausible that a cautious search attitude and conduct would render those with a closed mind particularly vulnerable to feelings of information overload. Nevertheless, as long as they succeed in keeping their distress at bay and acquire only the narrow, on-target search result they strive for, cautious persons’ search approach may be effective. It is a practical way to search: limited, yes, but also focused. Through this search approach new discoveries are unlikely to be made, but instead cautious persons may efficiently retrieve exactly what they set out to find.