Consuming Culture: Staying “Open” for New Experiences - Women and Psychology Column

In psychology, when they tell you to study personality, they also tell you to just look to the OCEAN or use a CANOE. Apparently someone out there has a water fetish.

These acronyms are both muttered by students at final exam time to help them remember the “Big Five” aspects of personality---openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticisim. Most of these are pretty obvious. An extravert loves to party down and enjoys being in crowds; they’re social. Conscientious people are thoughtful and detail oriented, a bit rigid. Agreeable people work hard to get along with others. Neurotics can be, ahem, a bit high strung.

But it seems that something that can drive a person is openness, which can predict how ready or “open” you are to experience new things.

I don’t think it’s a shock that people who are more open tend to go out and try different things, while a person who is really into order and details is probably not going to be going wild any time soon. However, the real surprise to me is that extraversion, which I’ve always thought of as outgoing, and it is, can actually make a person likely to go with what’s popular over what’s new.

It’s not completely like astrology to say a person’s preferences indicate their personality. I mean, if you have someone who loves a rocking Mozart concerto, they’re probably not into Eminem. Similarly, that person into PBS is probably not going to watch Family Guy. Still, I think that the take away from the idea that the “Big Five” personality traits are related to our preferences for music, movies, art and books is that you need to be aware of it.

Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with being an extravert. I’d love to be more like that myself. Similarly, being conscientious is something a lot of scientists and engineers are in general and, since I like my iPod and buildings that don’t collapse because the math was off, I’m happy they are that attuned to details. However, I think that everyone can stretch to be more than just strong in one trait.

People can change.

They can seek to be more open.

Okay, so I’ve just talked about people in general.

The thing is, I think that many of us---and I’m guilty because I can’t tell you how many inane celebrity gossip facts I’ve picked up from certain networks out there--- embrace the extraversion or the agreeableness. Not all women, you can never generalize about a group and I hate that, but I think a big portion of us go with what’s easy, what’s in vogue, what allows us to park our minds at the end of a hard work day. We aren’t even aware of closing ourselves off to new things---new paintings, new types of music, movies that were made before color even. Instead, after a long day of school or jobs, we often  go home, tune in and tune out.

I just want us, as women, to be aware that we need to be more open to new experiences, to a world that’s out there if only we’d look for it.

We love culture. We love input. We love just being able to get news about the world around us.

It’s up to us to pick what kind of information we’re getting. I’m not saying change your entire personality. You don’t have to go out and become a big fan of jazz if you’ve loved Ryan Seacrest’s weekend countdown. I doubt one could completely do a makeover like that. I just want you to try something new. Maybe one week, try that jazz concert on campus instead of another movie. Instead of dinner, maybe go to a museum that has an exhibit that sounds cool.

Try something new just once in a while.

The most important thing, the thing I hope women reading this remember, is that I hope you all stay open to new books and news sources. We’re so used to a few channels or a few news feeds online for all our information. Similarly, we all love a bit of The Shopaholic… or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. There is nothing wrong with that. I love those at the beach, just lazing by the sun with a daiquiri. I’m just asking us to try stretching ourselves to new things, to having some broccoli with our popcorn and cotton candy, a balanced cultural diet if you will.

I want you to be open to making that time once a week or thirty minutes a day to turn off the TV from the latest sitcom installment and to open a book on something you might not have read before. Want to learn about car repair? Why not start tonight with a trip to the library. More curious about Queen Elizabeth I from history class, get that Kindle warmed up.

Most crucially, as young women, I hope we all make time to pick up a book about where we’ve been and where the feminist movement started. There’s a world of struggles that happened before most of us were even born. It’s a shame to forget that. If we want to shape where the next wave of equal rights is going, we definitely have to embrace and know where we’ve come from.

So, just for an hour on a Tuesday night, instead of yet another rerun, just reach for the Steinem. Be open, and you just might be surprised.

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