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What Makes the Political Personal? Openness, Personal Political Salience, and Activism


  • We gratefully acknowledge Alyssa N. Zucker's generosity in allowing us access to the University of Michigan Alumnae data used in this study. We would also like to thank David G. Winter, the Gender and Personality in Context laboratory, our anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on drafts of the manuscript and Laura Klem for her invaluable statistical advice.

concerning this article should be addressed to Nicola Curtin, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. E-mail:


ABSTRACT People who attach personal meaning to social and political events or are high in Personal Political Salience (PPS) are more likely to engage in political activism (Duncan & Stewart, 2007). Although research suggests that PPS is consequential for activism, we know little about its origins or, more generally, about indirect effects of personality on activism. In this study we examined the possibility that the personality trait of Openness to Experience may be one source of PPS and an indirect predictor of activism. In addition, we proposed that Openness would also be directly related to political activism in young adults but not in middle-aged and older adults. Analyses confirmed these predictions in cross-sectional and over-time data from six samples. We argue that Openness may predispose some individuals both to find personal meaning in distant political events and to engage in social activism in their youth.