Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Character strengths: Open-mindedness

This is part three of our Character Strengths Series. We started with grit, the perseverance and passion toward long-term goals, and kindness, which is marked by tenderness and concern for oneself and for others. Today, we will learn more about open-mindedness. 

Researchers Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman define open-mindedness as “the willingness to search actively for evidence against one's favored beliefs, plans, or goals, and to weigh such evidence fairly”. It is pretty much the opposite of what we usually do. We tend to search for information that confirms our beliefs, plans, and goals. For example, if we consider our colleague an incompetent person, we try to find as many situations in which he or she proved to be like that. If we prefer skiing from snowboarding, we will try to find evidence that skiing is less dangerous and healthier than snowboarding. This tendency to confirm our own beliefs is called myside bias. The opposite is critical thinking or open-mindedness.

On the Authentic Happiness Website, there is a short article that outlines the benefits of open-mindedness. For example, open-minded people are more resistant to manipulation. Furthermore, they are more objective when judging other people instead of projecting their own beliefs or mistakes on others. Finally, they seem to do better on ability and achievement tests.

Keith E. Stanovich mentions the fact that humans tend to avoid critical thinking in his book “What intelligence tests miss”. We wrote about this book in our articles “What intelligence tests miss” and “Why smart people do stupid things”.

So if critical thinking or open-mindedness is such a valuable strength, what can we do in order to promote it in ourselves? We simply have to do the opposite of what we usually do: search for information that contradicts our own beliefs. For example, when we have an opinion on something, we can write down all the arguments against our opinion. We can try to step into the shoes of a person who has completely different beliefs and try to find support for their views. Research suggests that we do have a lot of information like this available, we just don’t use it. So go ahead and try to prove yourself wrong!

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