According to the literature on social influence, there is a strong relationship between exposure to minority points of view and divergent thinking (i.e., thinking characterized as fluid, flexible, and more creative). Relatedly, another body of research has established a link between creativity and certain personality characteristics, especially those that contain novelty or originality as key components (e.g., openness to experience, need for cognition). In the present study, we examined the possibility that entertaining and accepting minority points of view might be, in part, related to a variety of personality characteristics. Specifically, we predicted that individuals who score high in need for cognition and openness to experience would be more influenced by a minority source of influence than would individuals who scored relatively lower on these two measures. That is, we imagined that individuals high in openness and need for cognition might be more inclined to construe the minority source of influence as a source of creative thinking and therefore gravitate toward the point of view expressed by the minority.
In addition to measuring the above mentioned personality variables, we manipulated source status (minority/ majority) and the general success of the position being argued (successful/ unsuccessful). These variables were manipulated within a brief vignette read by all participants. In this vignette the source argued in favor of a policy that would require all college students to complete 4 semesters of foreign language training in the interest of making them more marketable in the global economy. Source status was manipulated by including the percentage of individuals who agreed with the new policy (i.e., 85% agreed for majority, 15% agreed for minority), and success of the position being argued was manipulated by providing information regarding the success of the foreign language policy when adopted by a distant university. Thus, the study utilized a 2 (Status: Minority/Majority) X 2 (Success: Success/Failure) X 2 (Personality Variable (Need for Cognition and Openness to Experience: High/Low) factorial design. The dependent variables of interest included both direct (i.e., overall acceptance of minority influence) and indirect (i.e., divergent thinking) measures.
Our results support the notion that personality characteristics are related to the extent to which a minority point of view is entertained. The results indicate that individuals who were high in openness in the minority condition, were more likely to accept the proposal if it was deemed successful versus unsuccessful. However, we also found that individuals low in openness, in either status condition, were more likely to accept the foreign language proposal if it was previously deemed unsuccessful versus successful, and the same held true for those individuals who were high in openness and in the majority condition. We also found a 3-way interaction for need for cognition yielding similar results. This is a curious result that does not coincide with the existing literature. Thus, future studies should look at the relationship between individual personality characteristics and acceptance of minority influence in both successful and unsuccessful contexts.