inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #26 of 50: Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 23 Aug 08 15:39
I'm enjoying this discussion very much; it's a topic that has long
fascinated me. I won't have the book until Monday, and am looking
forward to the read very much. 

Partly I am fascinated because of my attachment to my own spaces,
which have been many and various over the years. 

I enjoy watching House & Garden television, and shelter magazines,
especially when my thinking brain is tired. It mystifies me, though,
why people have designers come in and 'do' their rooms. This often
results in something beautiful, but also often something that in no way
-- that I can see -- reflects the person(s) who actually lives there. 

The bedrooms, particularly, seem odd to me. Why does someone want a
bedroom -- the most private and, one would think, personal room in the
house -- to look like a magazine or catalog illustration? 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #27 of 50: Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 23 Aug 08 20:20
not having read the book yet, can you comment on
'neuroticism' as one of the dimensions of how people
interact with their spaces? sounds like you mean it in
the sense of 'this person is hypersensitive to externalities'
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #28 of 50: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 23 Aug 08 21:43
Sam, your mention of the FBI above makes me curious - has there been
any special interest in your work from any of the three-letter agencies
or regular police agencies?
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #29 of 50: Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 24 Aug 08 13:28

I was wondering the same thing.  It seems perfect for profilers, for 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #30 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Sun 24 Aug 08 18:37
I can understand why people employ interior designers because the
professionals are often better equipped than the client to make the
client's vision a reality. But I think an obstacle may arise in that we
don't always have a very good idea of what it is we want. It's easy to
flick through the pages of an architecture magazine and think, "I want
my place to look like that." But in redesigning one's space, one can
easily neglect to do all the things to a place make it fit your
emotional, identity, and behavioral needs -- so sure, that sparse empty
vibe, my look really cool, but it doesn't leave room for all those
important objects that the occupant uses to connect to her past and to
display the items that allow her to express to others who she feels she
is. In my book I talk about Chris Travis who heads up a truly
innovative architecture firm where he uses a series of (quite intense)
psychological exercises to draw out the deep emotional connections that
clients have to their environments. One of the things he finds over
and over again is that people really have very little insight into what
it was they wanted. When Travis is done the clients rave that the
house fits them perfectly but it never ends up being similar to the
design they had in mind when they first approached Travis. 

In response to Paulina's post I should point that when I use terms
like neuroticism and extraversion I am referring to these in the sense
of the Big Five personality dimensions. This "Big Five" (B5) model is
now the most widely accepted model of personality traits in scientific
circles. Each the five traits (Openness, Conscientiousness,
Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism; OCEAN) are very broad
subsuming a set of narrower constructs. So in the case of Neuroticism
for example, the broad trait includes narrower facets of personality,
like axiety, anger, depression, self-consciousness, immoderation, and
vulnerability. Research has shown that the facets are correlated such
that people who are high on one of these facets tend to be higher on
the other facets too, although of course that's not always the case.
For example, I'm high on 5 of the 6 openness facets but low on the
other one. The other thing that should be clear is that these broad
OCEAN labels that I use only partially correspond to the way they are
used in everyday conversation; as you can see (from the facets), the
term B5 definition of neuroticism is much broader than the way it is
used in daily speech. I have short b5 test in my book but for a broader
idea of your b5 scores (including your scores on the facets), I
recommend this online test (take the 120-item version):
(In case you're interested in learning more, chapter 2 of my book is
dedicated to the b5). 

Finally, in response to David and Linda's question, I have not been
contacted by the FBI or similar agencies, although I think we're doing
very similar things. Of course, they are interested in looking for
traces of criminal behavior whereas I'm interested in looking for signs
of ordinary everyday behavior. 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #31 of 50: Paulina Borsook (loris) Sun 24 Aug 08 20:39
thanx for the explanation and the pointer to the self-inventory on
OCEAN (i see traces of jungian type stuff in the paradigm). and
yes, as a matter of fact, i am a highly anxious depressive
introvert with a well-expressed border collie gene...

an earlier author in inkwell.vue talked about
the mcmansion/giraffe barn aesthetic in contemp housimg...
which gives credence to your idea that people do NOY
(make that NOT) know what they want. choosing spaces
which are uncomofortable and not very liveable;
stainless steel kitchen appliances which smudge like mad;
the trend of staging houses to sell (so people are
buying someone else's narrative about how +
why to inhabit a dwelling) ---  very strange.

and yes, that modernist aesthetic of featuring interiors
that are barren but beautiful, and devoid of most
of the things that people actually live with and
define themselves by --- again, very strange.
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #32 of 50: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 25 Aug 08 07:11
I do think some people actually like that look.  I had a manager once
who had NOTHING in his office besides one picture of his wife and
daughter.  All projects were either filed or in neat folders on his
desk.  He would always look visibly nervous in my office.

That section about Chris Travis and his Truehome project seemed like a
case study for "Applied Snoopology" (and having heard about it, I
can't imagine having the money to do a project like that without
talking to him).

One of the things that I found most interesting was the story of the
couple that (grossly oversimplifying) didn't realize that the wife was

Have you ever turned up anything in a snooping project that was a real
surprise to either the snoopers or the snoopees? 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #33 of 50: Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 25 Aug 08 19:09
I like the phrase "applied snoopology." Now I'm wondering what that
might look like. Courses in how to suss out a new friend/potential
partner on first visit? 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #34 of 50: Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Mon 25 Aug 08 20:10
I just finished the book, so of course what's at the top of my mind is
what's near the end of the book. The 'Truehome' stories are
compelling. This is how I moved into the little house I'm in now -- not
a custom house -- but I spent time thinking and writing about how each
room should feel, so ended up with a "floorplan" much like you

It also brought to mind a custom house built by friends many years
ago, how expensive it was and how pleased they were with it. They had
an open house party, and I want, and was impressed. Impressed, and
uncomfortable. I could not get my back to a wall. It was 'open plan'
and the exterior walls were all windows. It was the first time I
realized that my friend was claustrophobic, and that I am rather the

This experience also rekindled my interest in the intersection of
architecture and psychology. 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #35 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Tue 26 Aug 08 02:26
Applying Travis' "truehome" system

Yes, I agree with David--some people really do like the sparse clean
aesthetic (in fact, I think I do). I think the problem comes from the
fact that most architects don't have a systematic way of finding out
what people REALLY want--does the desire for clean lines run deep or is
it an unexamined aesthetic whim? My other area of research is in
animal personality; in one of our projects we are trying to match the
personalities of dogs at the local animal shelter to adoptive homes
that will suit the dogs well. One major obstacle is that prospective
owners think they have a good idea of what they want but they often
haven't examined their lifestyle and needs carefully; frequently, a
person will arrive at the shelter saying that what they want is an
intelligent dog, when in fact an intelligent dog is precisely what they
do NOT want.

The issue of people not having carefully examined what would make them
happy is compounded by the dysfunctional nature of the relationships
between clients and most conventional architects. As Chris Travis has
pointed out, traditional architects are trained in the mode of
artists--they are creating a work of art that the client may be lucky
enough to inhabit. Typically, the architects are not in the business of
really getting at the roots of what would make the place
psychologically fit the client, and those who do are often referred to
(with more than a hint of derision) as "builders." That was why I found
Travis' approach so interesting. 

But as David wonders, how can we all explore the roots of our feelings
about spaces without Travis to guide us? Some of you may have read the
recent nyt article on Travis' attempts to make his exercises
(inexpensively) accessible on the web. I think even these simple
exercises could offer tremendous benefits to people building,
renovating, decorating, or buying a place because they offer  a
systematic procedure for exploring one's associations to spaces (rather
than relying on chance realizations like the one that Sharon shared).
In the longer term I hope that greater effort will be made in
architecture schools to integrate psychology into the training of all
these people who will end up building the world we live in.

Applied Snoopology

If we were to develop a field of applied snoopology, it should, as I
suggested in an earlier post, start with an exploration of our own
places and how they reflect our identities, feelings, and behaviors. As
I noted before, most of these connections are driven by processes that
come so naturally that we don't even notice them--we just think, "that
picture would look good there" (not, "I need to regulate my arousal
levels so I'd better hang a painting of a tranquil scene across from
the dining table"). 

The links between people and places tend to fall into three
categories. The first is identity claims, which are the deliberate
statements we make about ourselves; we express our values, goals,
attitudes, and identities by displaying items in our spaces (e.g., an
Obama poster, a flag, a bumper sticker). These can be directed towards
others (in which case they need to use a language that can be
understood by our intended audience and placed in a location they will
see, like in a public area of the living space or on a car bumper) or
towards ourselves (in which case only we need to know the meaning and
they can sit somewhere private, like a set of old geometry instruments
won at a high-school science fair reminding the occupant of her
original motivation to become a chemist). 

The second link is what I call feeling regulators, which are the
things we do to spaces to affect how we think and feel. Very often we
change location to affect our thoughts and feelings, like going to the
library to concentrate or to a quiet beach to relax. Or we use music or
other forms of media (at one time you may feel like watching an action
movie, at another you'd prefer a comedy). We also arrange our places
to alter how we feel too--a bathroom in one of the spaces I examined
had been crafted into a calm, soothing, sanctuary but another was
bright and exciting, designed instead to get the occupant awake and
raring to go in the morning.  

The third link reflects are what I call "behavioral residue." Unlike
identity claims and feeling regulators, which are ways we deliberately
do things to the spaces around us, behavioral residues are the
inadvertent reflections of our behaviors. The idea behind behavioral
residue is that our actions reflect who we are and a subset of those
actions leave a trace in the world (like an organized living space, or
a theater ticket lying on the counter); so these traces may, given
enough time for them to accumulate, reflect what a person is like. 

The applied snoopologist would bring this understanding to
interpreting other peoples' spaces. Thinking about objects from this
perspective leads to three questions that can be applied in snooping
scenarios:  First, and most obviously you need to know what the object
is; "it's a desk calendar!" Second, you need to find out how it has
been used. To do this, consider the state it's in; "oh, it was filled
out a bit at the beginning, rather haphazardly, but hasn't been used
much recently". Third, note the item's location because that will give
you clues to its psychological function; "it has been placed where
other people will see it". Of course, as I am careful to mention in my
book, snooping will not always give you a definitive answer--there are
cases where it might just narrow down the possible range of what a
person is like or (as I mentioned before) help direct you to ask the
right (i.e., most revealing) questions. And all the time, the snooper
must be on the lookout for common easy-to-make snooping mistakes. 

Surprising the snooper and snoopee.

One item that surprised both the snooper and snoopee is the item I
found when I was both the snooper and the snoopee. It's my refrigerator
(which I talk about in the last chapter of my book).  I had always
been curious about my refrigerator because unlike the chaos to be found
in other areas of my home (like the desk, cd collection, bathroom
cabinets, food cupboards), the fridge was immaculately organized, with
neat rows of sodas, drink mixers, and beers on every shelf going all
the way to the back. It was not until I had met Chris Travis that I
figured out the psychological story behind this unusually organized
enclave in my home. Travis had remarked that it was amazing how often
his clients at a very basic emotional level are trying, without
realizing it, to recreate the feelings (such as warmth, security) they
experienced as a child at a grandparent's home. Only after meeting
Travis did it dawn on me that I had done the same thing--the
refrigerator, always stocked to the brim with drinks, recreated a sense
of plenty that I had experienced as a child at my grandmother's house,
where my brother and I were at liberty to consume as many bottles of
tonic water as we pleased. It was this experience that drove home in
very personal way how deeply (and often unconsciously) we are connected
to our spaces.
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #36 of 50: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 26 Aug 08 23:35
I loved that story in the book. It sent me off into a fantasy about an
architectural psychiatrist who sits you on a couch and says "when did
brutalism first hurt you?"

On that note... reading the discussion of different standards (what I
consider messy my friend considers tidy, and so forth) I did wonder, as
a sort of meta-snooping, how much insight is there to be gained from
my own opinion of my behavior?  If I consider my tidy room messy, does
that give greater insight into my score on the neurotic scale?

It's  a bit like the revelation about narcissists, that even when
confronted with their, what did you call it, their over claiming, they
argue that they really did know something about a fake person.  What
does that tell you? (Besides, wow, the human mind is an amazing thing)
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #37 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 27 Aug 08 01:14
That's another great question David. Personality psychologist Robert
Hogan has argued that self-reports of our behavior are little more than
identity statements--how we'd like to be regarded. And informant
reports (i.e., reports of personality by ones' friends, etc.) are
little more than reputational statements. Of course, the idea is that
both kinds of reports are rooted, at least in part, in reality. I think
Hogan's point is important but I think there's much more to self and
informant reports than identity and reputation. One of the additional
things we bring to reports of ourselves and others is our implicit
standards (as David suggests). Frequently, two people will agree on
what happened but disagree on what it meant; Becci thinks Alfie's
behavior was very rude but Jess thinks it's perfectly ok. 

These discrepancies don't happen that often (although we tend to
notice them when they do) but they do bring up the question of which
source of information we should prefer. The answer depends on the
circumstances. If I was hiring someone to work for me, I would want to
know how they actually behaved (i.e., are they really punctual,
organized, broad minded, and outgoing) no matter how they thought they
behaved; that of course, is why traces in physical spaces are so
useful--because they reveal real behaviors that have been performed,
not biased estimates. But if I really wanted to get to know
someone--perhaps if I was developing a romantic relationship with a
person, I would want to know how she saw herself regardless of whether
it was true; so if the person saw herself as constantly being the
victim (getting passed over for promotions, always getting neglected by
others and getting the raw end of the deal), even if it wasn't a fair
reflection of reality, I would not know that person well unless I was
aware of that self-view. Given that personality is partly reflected in
how we see the world, I can learn something about you by  looking at
your standards of judging yourself and others.
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #38 of 50: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Thu 28 Aug 08 14:58
When I'm having regular conflicts with someone at work, I'll often do
the same exercise -- finding out how they perceive their behavior will
often give me an insight into why we're not getting along.

This is slightly tangential to the subject of self-image, but I found
myself dubious about the section on international characteristics --
that Japan is high on these characteristics, China low on others, etc.

The sticking point for me was the idea that certain clusters of
behaviors attach to certain characteristics regardless of culture --
that walking fast in Japan necessarily means the same thing it does in
the US, for example.  That just seemed more US-centric than makes

Or am I imagining that there's more difference than there really is?
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #39 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Fri 29 Aug 08 01:10
You're talking about the "pace of life" research right? I think you're
certainly right that the same behavior can have different meanings in
different cultures. But one way the pace-of-life researchers addressed
this issue was to use multiple indexes of pace-of-life. So not only did
they look at average walking speed in different cities around the
world but they also looked at other elements like whether the clocks
were accurate and how long it took to buy a stamp. To the extent these
different indicators pointed in the same direction, it's likely that
their meanings were similar to one another, even if they are not
identical. And by using multiple indicators the researchers also
insulate themselves a bit from cases where an indicator (like walking
speed) means different things in different cultures; that is, even if
walking speed is unrelated (or even negatively related) to pace of life
in country X, its effect is diluted by the other indicators all of
which point in the same direction. That, of course, is why its good
measurement practice to get as many different indicators of a construct
(whether it's pace of life or extraversion or wealth, etc.) as you
can. One could come up with any number of criticisms of the various
indicators (e.g., all other things being equal, we might expect people
living in places with relatively tall people to walk faster on average
than people living in places with relatively short people) but to
undermine studies with multiple indicators you need to generate
arguments that suggest all (or most) of the indicators are wrong AND
they are all wrong in the same direction. 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #40 of 50: Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 30 Aug 08 12:09
What has been most interesting -- and enlightening -- for me in this
book and discussion is clarification of some things I've always thought
to be contradictory. 

One would expect -- I thought -- a quiet, reserved, introverted person
to have a quiet and conservatively arranged home. *So* not true for

Also not true that I'm always quiet and reserved, though I'm
unquestionably an introvert. An introvert who taught, and practices,
assertiveness; and who is quite willing to take charge when my skills
are called for. And quite happy to have someone else take charge, as

So I'm interested to see an approach that makes room for some
unexpected congruences. It helps to understand my extroverted friend
whose house is pretty, but completely conventional. 

Though I still struggle a bit with the language. Openness meaning open
to experience, to difference; not openness, necessarily, to other
people. Not the person who tells the stranger on the bus her life

So -- one can be open, and closed, at once? 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #41 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Sat 30 Aug 08 18:25
Right. A lot the labels used for the big five personality dimensions
are quite confusing because they overlap only partially with how the
words are used in ordinary everyday language. Openness is a great
example because it's thought to mean openness to people, as Sharon
suggests, and also it also sometimes means flexible (as in a pushover).
But as Sharon notes the big five definition is really about
intellectual openness--to ideas and experiences. So you could be open
to people but closed in terms of the big five openness. You could also
be open and closed at the same time by having different scores on
facets within the broader dimension--generally high on most the
openness facets but low on one or two.
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #42 of 50: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 30 Aug 08 22:55
For those of you who haven't read the book, I do recommend the link
Sam posted earlier -- (  Seeing
myself reflected in the "big five" really helped to illustrate them
for me.  

Of course it may reflect some level of narcissism on my part that when
I take a test of this sort, I measure the reliability by how closely
it matches my own self-image :-)

On the subject of narcissism, I was fascinated by the over-claiming
questionnaire, and the idea that people high in narcissism are so sure
of their own opinion that they will actually disagree about which
people on the test actually exist.

Do you find the same pattern in people high in the other four of the
Big Five characteristics?  Do people high in agreeableness delude
themselves about whether a person is agreeable in return, for example?
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #43 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Sun 31 Aug 08 15:44
David, Narcissism is not one of the big five dimensions. But different
personalities do see the world (including other people) differently.
As you might expect, people high on agreeableness tend to be more
charitable in their views of others (even when rating other big five
variables) than less agreeable people. Also, a robust finding is that
people tend to see others as they see themselves; but note this is only
a tendency, so it's not like we see all others as being exactly like
ourselves but on average, extraverts see others as more extraverted
than introverts do, open people tend to see others as more open than
closed people do, etc. --some researchers have framed this effect in
terms of projection. 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #44 of 50: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 1 Sep 08 21:55
Uh, oh, my notes failed me. There it is in the book, of course.

We're coming to the end of our two weeks, pretty soon, and I wanted to
make sure we talk about the future a bit.  What's on the horizon for
this field? What's there left to look into?
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #45 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 3 Sep 08 03:11
I think a lot of fascinating questions remain to be examined, many of
which we've touched upon in these discussions. For example, I think
some of the issues surrounding culture have a lot of potential; I'd be
interested in empirically examining how these connections between
people and their spaces play out across different cultures. 

I'm also being increasingly drawn to examine the many virtual
environments that are playing larger and larger roles in our lives.
What psychological needs are being met by the social networking sites
that now occupy huge amounts of time and energy in some circles? What's
the appeal of the virtual worlds found in second life and multi-player
online video games? It seems somewhat odd that the former has
floundered but interest in the latter has soared. Some of our initial
findings are suggesting that there is no one motivation driving people
to participate in these activities: Some people (extraverts) use the
games primarily to interact with others but others use them primarily
as a procrastination strategy that makes the use feel vaguely
productive. And what's going on with the characters that people use to
represent themselves in these spaces?

Within the environments I have studied, I'd also like to look more
closely at issues of identity. The vast majority of studies in the past
have looked at traits (like the big five) because they are easy to
measure. But, identity, which presents a much bigger challenge to
measure, has been relatively neglected. But to me identity is one of
the richest untapped seams in psychology so I'd love to do more work on
this topic. 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #46 of 50: Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Wed 3 Sep 08 10:45
Could you expand a bit on that? The differences between personality/
traits and identity?
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #47 of 50: (dana) Wed 3 Sep 08 11:38
This has been a fascinating discussion, and while it doesn't have to
end now, we'll be turning the virtual spotlight on a new conversation
this week.

Thank you, Sam and David. Please feel free to stick around as long as
you like.
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #48 of 50: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 3 Sep 08 14:42
Thanks for a great conversation, Sam!
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #49 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 3 Sep 08 23:31
Sharon, yes. Personality traits, like sociability, curiosity, anxiety,
etc., are what Dan McAdams calls "the psychology of the stranger,"
good for a first read on a person. They tell you about regularities in
the person's patterns of behaving, thinking, and feeling. These traits
are what the Big Five personality dimensions capture. They are useful
if, say, you want to know if someone would be an effective employee or
roommate or colleague. But if you really want to know that person, Dan
McAdams claims (and I agree with him) that you need to delve deeper. If
you dig below traits you get to a person's values, goals, roles, etc.
And if you keep digging beyond that, you get to person's identity--his
or her sense of who she is, which consists of a story we tell about
ourselves with a sense of where we came from and where we're going. I
think people's spaces are interesting because they often allow you to
get at this kind of identity related information. Chapters 2 & 3 of my
book deal with these ideas. 
inkwell.vue.334 : Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
permalink #50 of 50: Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 3 Sep 08 23:32
Thanks David and all for your great questions/ideas/thoughts.

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