Snoop (2008) by Sam Gosling is another one of those books that sucked me in when I spied it on a display shelf at the bookstore. It looked relatively engaging, and I’ve always had a lingering interest in Psychology, so I decided to give it a try.
If I’m remembering correctly, Sam Gosling is a Psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. When he was doing his graduate work at Berkeley he began studying how people’s personalities are displayed in different ways through their living spaces. Gosling describes a number of different studies that have looked at dorm rooms, offices, webpages, favorite music, and appearances to see not only what aspects people use to determine someone’s personality, but also how correct they were in their guesses.
Gosling is an interesting writer. He manages to write clearly, with enough science to make the book meaningful but not so much that you feel like you’ve been transported back to school. There’s certainly nothing shocking or groundbreaking here. In fact, much of it is probably unimportant in the scheme of things or simple common sense, but I found it consistently absorbing (maybe just because I like Psychology) and I definitely learned something.
Gosling begins Snoop by outlining the five different traits used in Psychology to depict someone’s personality. These traits include: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. He describes what these terms mean and why they’re sometimes preferable to the perhaps more well-known Meyers-Briggs personality test. After offering a mini five-traits test for the reader, the rest of the book uses the framework of the five traits to show what different aspects of people's personalities are evident in different areas of their lives. (The very short five-traits test offered in the book was rather unsatisfying, so I also took the more involved 120-question test mentioned in the book and offered on-line. I have to say, the Meyers-Briggs test is a little more fun. Saying I’m high on conscientiousness, and low on extraversion, etc. wasn’t as immediately satisfying or meaningful as getting those four letters (INTJ or INFJ for me) and a little story that goes along with them.)
Although Gosling’s research seems to primarily focus on people’s dorm rooms, offices, and web pages, he outlines a number of pertinent psychological studies from other researchers. One of these included videotaping 100 volunteers as they walk across a room, sit down and read a prepared statement, and walk away again. What I found most interesting about this study, as well as throughout the book was where the judges made mistakes about their subjects. Although the judges were pretty accurate at determining who of the volunteers were extraverted, they often thought they were determining who was high in Openness and Conscientiousness but getting it wrong. For instance, the judges looked at people who had a refined appearance, made-up face, fashionable dress, slim physique, friendly expression, and other factors to determine whether they were high in the Openness trait. However, none of these factors actually determined which people were open. So not only do most of these studies say what characteristics often display someone’s personality, but they also show what erroneous assumptions others can make about us.
Each of the many studies that Gosling discusses in this book has something specific and interesting that I took away. For instance, extraversion is one of the easiest personality types to pinpoint, and a short meeting—such as an interview—is one of the worst ways to get a rounded picture of someone’s personality. Also, depending on whether you are in an office or a bedroom, a private or public place, changes the meaning of things you find there. Gosling’s book is full of fun and interesting stories, including anecdotes of specific apartments and offices that he’s looked through, and it was a quick and enjoyable read.