Sam Gosling, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. His work has been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times, Psychology Today, NPR, and "Good Morning America," and his research is featured in Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink." Gosling is the recipient of the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution. His first book, Snoop, was a New Scientist Editor's Pick for top books of 2008. His most recent research has focused on how animal psychology can inform theories of human personality and social psychology.
Question: How did you conduct research for Snoop?
Sam Gosling: Yeah, we did- we had a few studies, and the design is generally the same, no matter what the topic, but for example, in the study of people’s living spaces, what we did was I got a whole bunch of people to volunteer and people do volunteer, to my surprise- I didn’t know if they would, but people are incredibly enthusiastic to have their spaces looked at.
And then, so we’d get the volunteers, we would prepare their places, so what that meant was covering up their names, so it could be anonymous, but also doing things like covering up their photos. We know that people form impressions of others just on the basis of what they look like, and we didn’t want them to be doing that. And so, what we were originally going to do is we would say, well, let’s just take the photos out. But then we thought, no, it’s really important what kinds of photos you have of yourself in this space. Do you have a photo of yourself meditating on the top of a mountain in Nepal?
Or do you have a photo of yourself the arms around all of your drunken friends yelling at the camera? And that tells something different. So we left the photos in there, but what we did was we covered up the actual people with yellow post-its. So you could see what was going on, but you couldn’t see the person, and that of course immediately revealed big differences between- some people had no photos and others you’d go into the room through the yellow post-its- everywhere. So we prepared those rooms, and then what I did was I just sent in my team of seven or eight judges and said, okay, tell me what you think this person’s like.
And so they filled out a personality questionnaire for this person, then they left, and then I sent in a different team who were going to assess all the different elements of the spaces. So, what’s there? Is it an inviting place? Is it bright? Is it colorful? Are there books? How many books? What are the topics? Is there variety? Is there a clock? Is the clock on time? All those sorts- some pretty detailed information. And then, I asked the occupants themselves- they completed personality questionnaires- but then I also got the occupants’ friends to complete questionnaires about them, too, because for many things, we don’t have very good insight about ourselves, so it’s best to get the other perspective.
Recorded on: June 13, 2008.