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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,[…]

Investigators solve crimes by developing sensitivity to what Sam Gosling calls “the residue of our acts that we leave inadvertently on our space.”

Question: Could your research methods be utilized for criminal investigation?


Sam Gosling: I think they do to a certain extent. I mean, they’re looking for acts, criminal acts. We’re looking for ordinary, everyday acts. So that’s some of the things we’re doing. And I think they are all- in fact, when we were starting the project, we had an FBI officer come and talk to us about what he did. We thought we might learn something from him. And at the time, I thought he was being rather mystical, ‘cause he would say, “one of the first things I do when I come to a crime scene is I go and sit in the space- and I just soak it in.”

And I thought it was kind of something new-agey going on or something- but now, in retrospect, I realize what he was doing was he was letting these things that really jump out at you fade back a little bit so he can take in the broader pattern. But they’re doing the same thing for behaviors. I mean, I think we are going beyond that in some other ways.

So, although we are looking for consistencies in behaviors which will help us get our traits, we’re also looking for things like values and identity and so on- and we’d look for that in different places, so we’re looking for, for example, these claims people make- identity claims. These are deliberate statements people make to themselves and to others about how they’d like to be regarded- usually not disingenuous statements- they really want to be known.

We know from lots of psychology over the past couple of decades that people want others to see them as they see themselves. I think a lot of it is making these statements to the world, but- and then they’re also creating a space that makes them feel a certain way as well, so we would probably draw more on that, in addition to the- what I call behavioral residue- sort of the residue of our acts that we leave inadvertently in our space.


Recorded on: June 13, 2008.


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