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Sam Gosling on What Your Office Says About You
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 research inspired your book, Snoop?
Sam Gosling: I guess I had been working on environments and the connections between people and their places for a long time. And a lot of people seemed to be interested in it, so I thought, okay, let’s try and pull together all of this research I’ve been doing, both on physical places, in which people live and work, with their oral places, i.e., the music they listen to and their virtual spaces, such as their Facebook profiles, and it seemed like this would be a good opportunity to pull it together.
The idea behind Snoop is that the places which we select and craft are rich with clues at what we’re like. And so, the question is, what can you learn about someone by going into their environment? What can you learn about them? And we certainly form most of our impressions- which of those impressions are accurate, which ones are inaccurate, what are people learning about us? And even more broadly, and this is, I think, sort of the intellectual kernel that really interests me- is how are we connected to our spaces?
And I think we often don’t realize it- ‘cause it’s so automatic- we just say, “oh, I like that photo” and put the photo up. But we didn’t just put that photo up. There were ten thousand photos we could have put up. We put that one up. Why do we put it up and what can that teach us about how we are connected to the spaces in which we live and work?
Question: Have designers and architects picked up on these findings?
Sam Gosling: Architects classically haven’t been. You know, and I think that’s been one of the failings. I think that they architects see themselves generally as artists, and they’re doing their project and you may be lucky enough to live in one of their magnificent creations, but- and those people in the building trade who have really gone and asked people what they want, and looked at what people want- they are, with derision, referred to as “builders” by architects. They’re “builders”- that’s not the proper thing.
But there are some people who are doing it, and one of these people is Chris Travis, who really goes very deeply into people’s psychology and where their associations with buildings and environments come from. So right at the very beginning, before he has even started work, he does that. And it turns out that that’s tremendously effective, both from his perspective, and also the client’s. It’s effective from his perspective because he gets the design right. So, in nearly- in ninety percent of the cases, after he’s gone through this interview, which takes a long, long time, and all these psychological exercises, he comes up with a design, and he nails it the first time.
And so much of architectural work comes about from doing re-designs. Okay, here’s one design- okay, we have to re-do it and re-do it- and he finds- and now, he won’t even take on clients who won’t go through this process, because he says it’s too expensive for him not to. He can’t afford to go through all that re-design. So he seems to nail the design every time. And I’ve went <sic> to a few of his houses, and they’re really quite different. It’s not like he just has hit the key. And they’re really molded to people, and I spoke to a lot of his clients, and it’s really interesting. They talk about the place, and they say, “it just fits us, we love it.” But at the same time, what’s interesting, is they seem to be largely unaware that the psychological interview had any role in it! I mean, they went through- I couldn’t believe- Chris Travis told me- he said, look, “people are very resistant to believing that their underlying, sort of psychological needs played into this.”
But it results in these buildings. And I couldn’t believe it until I saw them and spoke with them. And they- you know- and so I know they have gone through this interview and then Travis has designed a place based on that, so I was saying- I was asking them, how does it relate? And they go, “Oh, I just like the place. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with that.” It was really astonishing. And Travis believes people don’t- it freaks people out to feel that there are these sort of forces they don’t know about controlling what they do.
Recorded on: June 13, 2008.
Sam Gosling explains what our spaces say about who we are.
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