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Open people may have more flexible and interconnected semantic network structures

Press release: "Remotely close associations: Openness to experience and semantic memory structure"

Alexander Christensen and colleagues examined how openness to experience is related to semantic memory structure, using a verbal fluency task in a sample of 516 adults. Their findings show that individuals who showed high scores on a questionnaire measuring openness to experience, a personality trait dimension characterized by the enjoyment of novel experiences and ideas, generated a large number of and more unique responses to a verbal fluency task when compared to individuals with low scores. The study by Christensen and colleagues is published in the July/August issue of the European Journal of Personality.

In their study, Christensen and colleagues administered an animal verbal fluency to participants, in which they were asked to come up with as many animals as they could think of in one minute. Splitting the sample into high and low scorers on openness to experience, the researchers found that the high scoring group was able to think of more animals – and named more animals that individuals in the low on openness group did not name. Using a semantic network approach, in which words in memory are represented as nodes and edges signify the relations between them, they found that individuals high on openness had a more flexible and interconnected semantic network, which may explain why these individuals came up with more and more unique responses.

Christensen stated in an interview with the European Journal of Personality’s blog that, “In a nutshell, I think we provide some evidence for open people being able to grab on to more distant and remote knowledge. In day-to-day life, they might know a little bit more and may remember some unique facts whereas other people may not. One of the driving forces here I think is curiosity; some other people may simply not be as curious to learn that information, so they would never get to those unique knowledge points. As a result of that curiosity, the breadth and depth of knowledge in open people might be a little bit deeper.

Correspondence about this study may be addressed to the lead author, Alexander Christensen, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, PO Box 26170, Greensboro, NC, USA. Alexander Christensen can be contacted via email at The article can be accessed here.

Click here for the interview with Alexander Christensen.

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