The Relationship Between Personality Traits and Psychedelic Experiences

Personality traits can influence psychedelic experiences. Use these individualized insights for harm reduction and better journey preparation.
Personality Traits. Sihouettes of 7 people in a row on the beach, with the sea and a sinset behind them. They are all at various heights, having just jumped into the air for the photo. All their hands are lifted above their heads, and the person second from the left is holding a guitar in their left hand.
Author: Sam Woolfe
By Sam Woolfe
February 8, 2024

Psychedelic users and practitioners are always recommended to respect ‘set and setting’. This refers to a person’s current mindset and the environment in which they will have a psychedelic experience. Both ‘set’ and ‘setting’ encompass many different factors.

One aspect of ‘set’ that many psychonauts and psychedelic providers neglect is personality. Despite this, an increasing body of research is shedding light on how it’s possible certain personality traits can influence the quality of people’s psychedelic experiences. This matters for various reasons, including preparing people better for psychedelic journeys in an individualized way and improving harm reduction.

Let’s now explore how certain aspects of psychedelic journeys are influenced by personality traits.

The Motivation to Use Psychedelics

A 2021 paper by Petter Grahl Johnstad from the University of Bergen reveals some fascinating correlations between personality traits and how people respond to psychedelics [1]. In his research, Johnstad assessed the personalities of 319 psychedelic users using two questionnaires. The first is known as the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI). This measures the Big Five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability/neuroticism, and openness. The second is the Risk Taking Index (RTI), which evaluates someone’s tendency to engage in risky behavior.

Johnstad found that psychedelic users tend to score higher for all of the Big Five traits as well as risk-taking. This, however, is not true in the case of the extraversion trait. This suggests that the motivation to use these substances could be driven by someone’s personality. Of course, the study is correlational, so the results don’t prove that certain traits cause a particular response to psychedelics.

Indeed, psychedelics may lead to increases in the trait of openness. For example, however, already being high in this trait is associated with seeking out new experiences [2]. This can include an interest in altered states of consciousness. Other personality traits, such as risk-taking and novelty-seeking, are also linked to the motivation to use drugs, including psychedelics.

Contacting Entities vs Connecting to Other People

In Johnstad’s study, people with high levels of openness were the most likely to experience  “love, inner visions, and contact with non-ordinary beings and transcendent forces” when tripping. Johnstad hypothesizes that these individuals’ curiosity and open-mindedness may lead them to “pursue unusual and intense experiences” when in an altered state.

In contrast, highly extroverted participants were the least likely to encounter non-ordinary beings. They tended instead to experience a deeper sense of connection to other people. This most likely reflects extrovert’s preference for social interaction over delving into the depths of their psyche.

Challenging Experiences

Johnstad’s research also indicates how the likelihood of challenging experiences may vary based on personality traits. Individuals with high emotional stability (or low levels of neuroticism) were the least likely to experience fear during a trip. This would be expected, as would the converse situation of individuals who score high in neuroticism being more likely to experience anxiety and fear while tripping.

A high score in neuroticism means that you may experience a range of challenging feelings more than others. You may often feel insecure, get stressed easily, feel irritable or moody, worry a lot, and experience mood swings. People who score low in this personality trait (or who score high in emotional stability) tend to be:

  • More optimistic
  • Able to manage stress easily
  • Not prone to over-worrying
  • Emotionally stable and resilient
  • Relaxed

Differing levels of emotional stability/neuroticism may, therefore, help to explain why some people are more prone to challenging psychedelic experiences than others. This can be useful information for psychonauts as well as psychiatrists, therapists, guides, and facilitators who are working with psychedelics. Someone high in neuroticism, for example, may require closer attention to dose, and set and setting. They may also specifically need psychological support more so than someone low in this trait.

Personality Traits. 3D illustration of a personality test, with four options with checkboxes visible. In order from top to bottom, these are 'Extrovert,' 'Introvert,' 'Sensitive,' and 'Intuitive'. There is a fountain pen marking off options. Introvert and Sensitive are marked off. There are also faded, wavy zig-zag colorful lines over the image in a vertical direction, with this fading toward the bottom of the image.

Ego Dissolution

People with high levels of risk-taking are more likely to experience ego dissolution while tripping. This refers to the loss of your sense of personal identity. This could be explained by risk-takers’ tendency to pursue extreme psychological experiences. Risk-takers would be more willing to take high doses of psychedelics than individuals low in the trait of risk-taking. And ego dissolution is more likely to occur when taking stronger doses of psychedelics (e.g., 200+ micrograms of LSD or 3+ g of psilocybin mushrooms). 

The Perception of Faces

Some personality traits might even predict very specific visual phenomena, such as face pareidolia. This involves seeing faces in everyday objects, such as clouds, carpets, curtains, bedding, plants, trees, etc. It’s a more specific example of pareidolia, which is the perception of meaningful patterns in random stimuli. Scientists at the NNT Communication Science Laboratory in Tokyo studied this back in 2015. They discovered that people who score high in neuroticism are more likely to experience face pareidolia (seeing faces in things). This might help explain why some individuals tend to see faces in various objects while tripping—whereas others experience this less.

Spiritual Experiences

There is evidence indicating that people high in the trait of absorption are more likely to have spiritual experiences [3]. Absorption refers to the tendency to get deeply involved in sensory stimuli and mental imagery (particularly fantasy). Studies have found that people who score high on the Tellegen Absorption Scale report:

  • Vivid experiences of hearing God’s voice during prayer
  • Intense mystical experiences in response to psychedelics
  • Strong feelings of presence and transcendence when experiencing natural beauty, virtual reality, or music

The trait of absorption intensifies inner and sensory experiences and seems to enable that which is imagined to feel more real. This could help explain why some individuals seem to have spiritual experiences more easily and frequently than others. One potential benefit of this understanding is perhaps less disappointment, confusion, and self-blame if a mystical experience doesn’t occur.

Intensity of Experience

If you have a group of people taking the same dose of a psychedelic in the same setting, experiences can vary widely. Of course, many factors can influence this outcome, such as intention-setting, expectations, and pre-trip mood. But personality traits may play a role, too. For example, some individuals score high in sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). This is defined as a personal disposition to be sensitive to sensory, social, and emotional stimuli. Someone high in this trait is known as a highly sensitive person (HSP).

People high in SPS report having a heightened response to stimuli such as pain, caffeine, hunger, and loud noises [4]. According to Boterberg et al. [5], these individuals are “believed to be easily overstimulated by external stimuli because they have a lower perceptual threshold and process stimuli cognitively deeper than most other people.” HSPs’ tendency to experience overarousal and stronger reactions to drugs might explain why some individuals tend to have more intense psychedelic experiences than others, despite taking the same dose.

Understanding that some people are more sensitive than others can be useful information when it comes to recommending doses of psychedelics. It’s possible that HSPs will need lower doses to achieve deep or mystical experiences compared to others. This means that higher doses may not only be unnecessary; they could also lead to states of overwhelm. In contrast, people low in SPS may require higher-than-average doses to reach their desired altered states of consciousness.

Differences in sensitivity to psychedelics should, therefore, be taken into before taking these substances. This could be something that psychedelic psychiatrists, therapists, guides, and organizers of retreats also start paying more attention to. Research is needed, however, to clarify the relationship between SPS and responses to psychedelics.

Ultimately, the more we understand how personality affects psychedelic experiences, the better we can predict how different people might respond to these substances.

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  1. Johnstad, P.G. (2021). The Psychedelic Personality: Personality Structure and Associations in a Sample of Psychedelics Users. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 53(2), 93–103.
  2. MacLean, K.A., Johnson, M.W., and Griffiths, R.R. (2011). Mystical Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin Lead to Increases in the Personality Domain of Openness. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 25(11), 1453–1461.
  3. Lifshitz, M., van Elk, M., and Luhrmann, T.M., (2019). Absorption and spiritual experience: A review of evidence and potential mechanisms. Consciousness and Cognition, 73.
  4. Liss, M., Mailloux, J., and Erchull, M.J. (2008). The relationships between sensory processing sensitivity, alexithymia, autism, depression, and anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 255–259.
  5. Boterberg, S. and Warreyn, P. (2016). Making sense of it all: The impact of sensory processing sensitivity on daily functioning of children. Personality and Individual Differences, 92, 80–86.
The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should be a substitute for medical or other professional advice. Articles are based on personal opinions, research, and experiences of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Psychedelic Support.

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Author: Sam Woolfe
Sam Woolfe
Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer, blogger, and journalist based in London. His main areas of interest related to psychedelics include philosophy, psychology, mental health, and risks. You can follow him on Twitter and find more of his work at

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