IELTS – Describing people – Openness to experience

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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.

Today, I’m making part 3 in this series of podcasts that focus on language you can use in part 1 and possibly in part 2 of the speaking exam in an IELTS test. In part 1 of the speaking test, you need to talk about yourself and in part 2, you need to describe something – often a person so this language, I hope will be useful for you if you are preparing to take and IELTS test, especially if you or someone you know can be described using the language from today’s podcast. You see, I am basing this series on the 5 main personality traits which is a psychological theory. I’ve already covered extraversion and agreeableness and today I am going to talk about the trait: openness to experience. This is a really complicated topic and the language in this podcast is going to be advanced. I will do my best to describe it, but I suggest you look at the transcript on the Learn English Vocabulary website if you find it difficult. 


Openness to experience is probably the most difficult of the five traits to describe. It’s similar to open-minded which means to be willing or prepared to think about new and different ideas. So if you want to suggest something that people will think is strange, you might say, I want you to be open-minded before you make the suggestion. Here’s an example. When I was a child, my friend Barney suffered with a type of skin problem on his feet called verrucas. These are like little warts that can be quite painful. Doctors had prescribed different creams and lotions but nothing worked. Someone made a weird suggestion. They said: don’t dismiss this right away, try to be open minded. You can cure these verrucas by wrapping your feet in banana skins. Well, it turns out that Barney was open minded enough to try it and it worked … I think. I’m not sure if it worked but that wasn’t the point of the story. Open-minded means to be open to new ideas. The opposite is closed-minded. If you are not willing to accept ideas or beliefs that you don’t believe, then you can be described as closed-minded. Often people use this to describe older people who are unwilling to consider new ideas and changing attitudes. 

Active imagination

Openness to experience means more than open-minded. The wikipedia article about this trait lists six dimensions. The first is active imagination. Imagination is a noun that means the ability to create pictures or stories in the mind. If you are really good at creating pictures or coming up with ideas, people might say you are very imaginative. There is a famous song called Imagine by John Lennon. Imagine is the verb and it means to picture in your mind or think about an idea. If you have an active imagination, you would not describe yourself that way. You might say: I have a vivid imagination. Vivid is used to describe images that are clear and powerful. Someone could give a vivid description of an event or a place, so that you could clearly imagine what it was like. You also hear people talk about vivid memories – very clear and strong memories of events. My wife has a very vivid imagination. She is one of those people that see a mental image of anything that they hear described. If I tell my wife about something horrible I have read online,  she will close her eyes and physically shake her head to try to clear the image from her mind, which is fun … for me. 

People who are open to experience and have an active imagination often describe themselves as creative or artistic. Creative people might have artistic hobbies. They might enjoy painting or drawing. 

Aesthetic sensitivity

Art is important to these people because as well as creating art, they are more likely to appreciate or enjoy art. You see, the next dimension is aesthetic sensitivity or sensitivity to beauty. Aesthetic is a very advanced word, it’s quite academic and relates to the experience of beauty. However, you would not use the word to describe yourself or others. You could perhaps say that you are sensitive and mean sensitive to beauty. If you are sensitive, you are more likely to stop and gaze at a sunset or cry if you hear a beautiful piece of music. I think that everyone is or can be sensitive to beauty. I once watched the sunset on a rooftop of a hotel in Varanasi in India. It was a beautiful evening. The whole city seemed to gather on the rooftops. There were children flying kites and playing games and adults sitting around and chatting. Even the monkeys had gathered on the rooftops without terraces and seemed to appreciate the beauty of the colours in the sky. I also know that if you are stressed or worried about things then it can be difficult to appreciate beauty. I actually decided to quit a job after going for a drive. I live in a beautiful part of England, with gentle hills and valleys and lots of beautiful oak trees and woodland. I always enjoy driving through the country. One time, I was driving and I realised that I could not appreciate the beauty all around me. I knew it was beautiful and I was sad that it didn’t move me at all because I was so stressed about work.

Attentiveness to inner feelings 

The next dimension is attentiveness to inner feelings. To be attentive means to listen carefully. We can pay attention to things which means the same. Your teacher might say: Pay attention as this will be in the exam. Your inner feelings are just your emotions. Some people are more aware of their emotions than others. In the UK, there used to be an expression ‘stiff upper lip’. This means to not show any emotion. This is falling out of use but you might hear someone saying they should keep a stiff upper lip. However, when people try not to show any emotion, they stop themselves from expressing the emotion which means they bottle things up. This is a fun phrase and probably more useful. My mother was raised to not express emotion and found it hard to express herself. She would bottle things up. This means she would withhold her emotions, but it also implies that she was emotionally unstable. If someone bottles up a strong emotion, it’s like they force all their feelings into a little bottle that is too full and might pop or break and release all the emotion inside. You hear people advising their friends: you shouldn’t bottle it up – let it out. 

Preference for variety

People who are open to experience show a preference for variety. This trait is another tricky one to explain. A preference is a positive attitude towards something. If you like something more than another thing, say pizza more than hotdogs, you could be said to have a preference for pizza. Variety means changing and different. So if you like variety, you like lots of different things. A variety often means a specific type of food or thing. So if you like cheese, you would love the cheese shop in town. It has hundreds of varieties of cheese. My favourite variety is a type of stilton made with buffalo milk. If you like variety in general, you like lots of different varieties. In terms of language you could use to describe a person, you might say someone likes to try new things or even is adventurous. 

Intellectual curiosity

The next dimension of openness to experience is intellectual curiosity. I can’t imagine someone saying that they were intellectually curious. You might describe someone else that way, but saying that you are intellectual is a bit like saying you are clever. It would sound like boasting. Intellectual is an adjective that relates to the ability to think and understand difficult ideas. Philosophy is an intellectual subject. Curious means being interested in things and people. If you are very curious about people, you risk being called nosey and that’s not good. It suggests that you have a big nose and you like to sniff around in other people’s business. You might be told to keep your big nose out of my business. If you are not curious at all, then you risk being called a narcissist. This describes a person who thinks they are great and is only really interested in themself. So the right amount of interest in people around you is good. Being curious is normally a good thing. I think that if people describe themselves as intellectually curious, they would say things like: I am quite philosophical and I like to think about things.

Challenging authority

The last of the dimensions of openness to experience is challenging authority. Some people really don’t like to be told what to do and will challenge whatever they are told just because they are told to do it. When I was a kid, there were punks. These were young people whose attitude seemed to me to be defined by rebelling against anything they were told to do. I knew people at school who hated being told what to do. However, challenging authority is not just childish rebellion. Authority means all the people who have power over you. Normally, this means the police and the government. There have recently been movements like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion that have challenged authority to make a positive change, not just to push back.  

OK. That’s a lot of language openness to experience. This trait has a lot of advanced vocabulary so you should think about yourself and the people you know in case you can describe yourself or your friends using some of this language.

I hope you have enjoyed this podcast. If there are any topics or songs or scenes from a film that you would like me to talk about or anything else you would like to hear, I would be delighted to make a podcast for you. So please visit and say hello.

Thanks for listening.

Show CommentsClose Comments


  • Rose
    Posted 15/09/2021 at 3:27 am


  • Ezgi
    Posted 21/10/2021 at 12:05 pm

    I’ve just come by to your podcasts on spotify and i really enjoyed it!
    Thank you for the great content.

    If it is possible i would be happy to hear about hospital and health related topics in C1 level 🙂

  • The Joseph
    Posted 29/09/2022 at 5:59 am

    Hi Jack
    your podcasts will help me to improve my listening as well as speaking effectively.
    thanks a lot.
    please keep produce more 😉
    with respect
    Joseph From Tehran

    • Jack
      Posted 29/09/2022 at 7:22 am

      Hi The Joseph
      Thanks for your comment. I will try to keep publishing these podcasts. However, I am very busy with work and my English Focus school.


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