Sam Gosling
Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

What Our Symbols Say About Us

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Sam Gosling says most symbols have obvious meaning.

Sam Gosling

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: What symbols do people use to broadcast their identities?


Sam Gosling: Well, these are what I call identity claims, where people are making statements- often to others- sometimes to themselves. And there’s really not much mystery to it in many ways because if there was a mystery to it, they wouldn’t be effective at broadcasting. But what you really want to do when you’re looking for those sorts of things is look in spaces which you can unambiguously associate with the person, and people usually help you out in this way.

So you see a poster of some sort of icon that’s important to them on their desk or on their door, or something like that- there may be other things, too, which have more personal meaning which you can’t really interpret. So you have a pebble from the beach where you had your first kiss, or something like that. And you might see that pebble and not really know what it means, but you would know the person will stay sentimental.


Recorded on: June 13, 2008.