Personality and serendipity:
: Curiosity, capability and happy accidents

  • Elizabeth Laurel Burn

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Economic and Social Studies


This study of serendipity aims to investigate why and how some people experience serendipity more than others. For if we understand how people find information, we as information professionals will better know how to help them. It seeks to identify:
- what the concept means to researchers and those who experience serendipity;
- whether the description of serendipity in the literature is consistent with how it is described in real life;
- why some people experience serendipity more often than others;
- why people think it happens;
- why serendipity is not always remembered;
- whether serendipity is accidental or is something that can be learnt;
- what characteristics and personality traits are associated with serendipity in the literature and whether there is evidence to support the impact of these traits on serendipity;
- whether there are particular trends across different subjects and levels of study;
- how people come across information serendipitously, particularly the role of motivation, preferred learning style and use of a search strategy;
- how people find information by accident in this digital age;
- whether a library can facilitate serendipity and what libraries and information services could do to help users find information unexpectedly;
- whether it is felt that there is a stigma attached to finding information serendipitously;
- and to relate the findings of this study to the wider body of work on serendipity.

A naturalistic methodological approach was undertaken, gathering 48 responses to an online questionnaire and eight semi-structured face-to-face or Skype interviews. The study found that serendipity:
- Is seen both in the literature and in reality as a pleasing, surprising and positive experience;
- Can be linked to extroversion, agreeableness, having time to search and invest in what is being read, enjoying the information searching process, skim-reading, searching for inspiration and new ideas, not using the first information found to save time and not searching for information for a purpose;
- Happens when people are in good and bad moods;
- Is considered to be linked to a slow, inquisitive approach to life;
- Is more likely to be recalled if it happens frequently, but is also easily forgotten;
- Is seen as something one could train oneself towards, but not something that can be directly sought;
- Could be sought subconsciously, as results suggest people are looking for something;
- Is experienced less frequently by those who enjoy learning by doing or by those who prefer group work;
- Is not linked to search strategy;
- Does not conclusively increase in frequency with academic level
- Is not conclusively linked to subject studied;
- Can still happen in the digital age, with most thinking highly of the internet’s role in serendipity and some still coming across information via traditional methods such as browsing bookshelves;
- Can be facilitated by a library or information service, but the idea that serendipity is more likely to happen in a library remains inconclusive;
- Is not universally respected in academia
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorAllen Foster (Supervisor)


  • serendipity
  • accidental information discovery
  • personality
  • aptitude
  • capability
  • curiosity
  • five-factore model
  • information literacy
  • information seeking
  • information behaviour
  • browing
  • digital age
  • libraries
  • information environment
  • stigma

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