Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sam Gosling's "Snoop"

Sam Gosling is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Snoop cuts to the core of what the book is about but at the same time it is grossly misleading about what a super snooper should do. The book, which is largely based on my research, examines what we can learn about others and ourselves from the environments we craft and inhabit. I use a very broad definition of environment, going well beyond physical spaces (like bedrooms and offices) to aural spaces (like music collections), virtual spaces (like facebook profiles), and even extending to the clothes we wear. On p. 99 I present one my of snooping field guides--in this case looking at the features of appearance that people use when they form impressions of others and the features that are actually valid indicators of what someone is like. The guide shows that people who look disorganized, messy, and unconventional are perceived to be high on the trait of openness and actually are high on this trait. The guide also shows that people who appear attractive, neat, relaxed, and conventional are thought to be high on the trait of conscientiousness but in this case the cues are misleading, causing people to form false impressions. In showing how our personalities are (and are not) manifested in appearance, these guides do touch on an important element of Snoop. However, just looking at page 99 alone might lead the reader to thinking snooping is a straightforward affair where clues can act as simple keys to traits. But Snoop shows that things are more complex than that. Instead of drawing on single clues, the expert snooper constructs a case on what someone is like; the snooper completes a personality puzzle by drawing pieces from a broad array of sources, like the way someone shakes your hand, or signs off their email, or walks down the street. Thus the very exercise of looking at the contents of page 99 confirms one of the core snooping lessons--that drawing on a single snapshot to get a read on something as multifaceted as a book (or a person) can be both revealing and misleading.
Read an excerpt from Snoop, and learn more about the book and author at Sam Gosling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue