Life in the open: Preferences for openness as a substrate of well-being


  • Roberta L. Irvin North Dakota State University
  • Michael D. Robinson North Dakota State University



Image schemas, such as those contrasting open and closed objects, are thought to play a fundamental role in self-regulation. Open objects encourage interactivity, which should contribute to well-being according to theories that emphasize processes such as engagement, exploration, and personal growth. On the basis of such reasoning, participants in three studies (total N = 889) were asked to indicate their relative preferences for the spatial concepts of closed versus open, which were hypothesized to reflect key motivations related to protection versus exploration. In Study 1, higher levels of open preference were predictive of higher levels of flourishing, a relationship that was evident across four samples. In Study 2, open-preferring individuals scored higher in multiple forms of well-being. In addition, these individuals were deemed to be flourishing to a greater extent by their peers. In Study 3, an open-closed preference slider was embedded into a daily diary protocol and higher levels of open preference were predictive of higher levels of affective and psychological well-being in both between-person and within-person analyses. In additional analyses, open preferences were linked to higher levels of approach coping and to higher levels of goal achievement. In total, the results provide key insights into orientations to the environment that are either conducive (open preferences) or not conducive (closed preferences) to well-being and flourishing.


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