Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 23 Aug 08 15:39
I'm enjoying this discussion very much; it's a topic that has long fascinated me. I won't have the book until Monday, and am looking forward to the read very much. Partly I am fascinated because of my attachment to my own spaces, which have been many and various over the years. I enjoy watching House & Garden television, and shelter magazines, especially when my thinking brain is tired. It mystifies me, though, why people have designers come in and 'do' their rooms. This often results in something beautiful, but also often something that in no way -- that I can see -- reflects the person(s) who actually lives there. The bedrooms, particularly, seem odd to me. Why does someone want a bedroom -- the most private and, one would think, personal room in the house -- to look like a magazine or catalog illustration?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 23 Aug 08 20:20
not having read the book yet, can you comment on 'neuroticism' as one of the dimensions of how people interact with their spaces? sounds like you mean it in the sense of 'this person is hypersensitive to externalities'
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 23 Aug 08 21:43
Sam, your mention of the FBI above makes me curious - has there been any special interest in your work from any of the three-letter agencies or regular police agencies?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 24 Aug 08 13:28
I was wondering the same thing. It seems perfect for profilers, for example.
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Sun 24 Aug 08 18:37
I can understand why people employ interior designers because the professionals are often better equipped than the client to make the client's vision a reality. But I think an obstacle may arise in that we don't always have a very good idea of what it is we want. It's easy to flick through the pages of an architecture magazine and think, "I want my place to look like that." But in redesigning one's space, one can easily neglect to do all the things to a place make it fit your emotional, identity, and behavioral needs -- so sure, that sparse empty vibe, my look really cool, but it doesn't leave room for all those important objects that the occupant uses to connect to her past and to display the items that allow her to express to others who she feels she is. In my book I talk about Chris Travis who heads up a truly innovative architecture firm where he uses a series of (quite intense) psychological exercises to draw out the deep emotional connections that clients have to their environments. One of the things he finds over and over again is that people really have very little insight into what it was they wanted. When Travis is done the clients rave that the house fits them perfectly but it never ends up being similar to the design they had in mind when they first approached Travis. In response to Paulina's post I should point that when I use terms like neuroticism and extraversion I am referring to these in the sense of the Big Five personality dimensions. This "Big Five" (B5) model is now the most widely accepted model of personality traits in scientific circles. Each the five traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism; OCEAN) are very broad subsuming a set of narrower constructs. So in the case of Neuroticism for example, the broad trait includes narrower facets of personality, like axiety, anger, depression, self-consciousness, immoderation, and vulnerability. Research has shown that the facets are correlated such that people who are high on one of these facets tend to be higher on the other facets too, although of course that's not always the case. For example, I'm high on 5 of the 6 openness facets but low on the other one. The other thing that should be clear is that these broad OCEAN labels that I use only partially correspond to the way they are used in everyday conversation; as you can see (from the facets), the term B5 definition of neuroticism is much broader than the way it is used in daily speech. I have short b5 test in my book but for a broader idea of your b5 scores (including your scores on the facets), I recommend this online test (take the 120-item version): http://www.personal.psu.edu/~j5j/IPIP/ (In case you're interested in learning more, chapter 2 of my book is dedicated to the b5). Finally, in response to David and Linda's question, I have not been contacted by the FBI or similar agencies, although I think we're doing very similar things. Of course, they are interested in looking for traces of criminal behavior whereas I'm interested in looking for signs of ordinary everyday behavior.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Sun 24 Aug 08 20:39
thanx for the explanation and the pointer to the self-inventory on OCEAN (i see traces of jungian type stuff in the paradigm). and yes, as a matter of fact, i am a highly anxious depressive introvert with a well-expressed border collie gene... an earlier author in inkwell.vue talked about the mcmansion/giraffe barn aesthetic in contemp housimg... which gives credence to your idea that people do NOY (make that NOT) know what they want. choosing spaces which are uncomofortable and not very liveable; stainless steel kitchen appliances which smudge like mad; the trend of staging houses to sell (so people are buying someone else's narrative about how + why to inhabit a dwelling) --- very strange. and yes, that modernist aesthetic of featuring interiors that are barren but beautiful, and devoid of most of the things that people actually live with and define themselves by --- again, very strange.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 25 Aug 08 07:11
I do think some people actually like that look. I had a manager once who had NOTHING in his office besides one picture of his wife and daughter. All projects were either filed or in neat folders on his desk. He would always look visibly nervous in my office. That section about Chris Travis and his Truehome project seemed like a case study for "Applied Snoopology" (and having heard about it, I can't imagine having the money to do a project like that without talking to him). One of the things that I found most interesting was the story of the couple that (grossly oversimplifying) didn't realize that the wife was claustrophobic. Have you ever turned up anything in a snooping project that was a real surprise to either the snoopers or the snoopees?
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 25 Aug 08 19:09
I like the phrase "applied snoopology." Now I'm wondering what that might look like. Courses in how to suss out a new friend/potential partner on first visit?
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Mon 25 Aug 08 20:10
I just finished the book, so of course what's at the top of my mind is what's near the end of the book. The 'Truehome' stories are compelling. This is how I moved into the little house I'm in now -- not a custom house -- but I spent time thinking and writing about how each room should feel, so ended up with a "floorplan" much like you describe. It also brought to mind a custom house built by friends many years ago, how expensive it was and how pleased they were with it. They had an open house party, and I want, and was impressed. Impressed, and uncomfortable. I could not get my back to a wall. It was 'open plan' and the exterior walls were all windows. It was the first time I realized that my friend was claustrophobic, and that I am rather the opposite. This experience also rekindled my interest in the intersection of architecture and psychology.
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Tue 26 Aug 08 02:26
Applying Travis' "truehome" system Yes, I agree with David--some people really do like the sparse clean aesthetic (in fact, I think I do). I think the problem comes from the fact that most architects don't have a systematic way of finding out what people REALLY want--does the desire for clean lines run deep or is it an unexamined aesthetic whim? My other area of research is in animal personality; in one of our projects we are trying to match the personalities of dogs at the local animal shelter to adoptive homes that will suit the dogs well. One major obstacle is that prospective owners think they have a good idea of what they want but they often haven't examined their lifestyle and needs carefully; frequently, a person will arrive at the shelter saying that what they want is an intelligent dog, when in fact an intelligent dog is precisely what they do NOT want. The issue of people not having carefully examined what would make them happy is compounded by the dysfunctional nature of the relationships between clients and most conventional architects. As Chris Travis has pointed out, traditional architects are trained in the mode of artists--they are creating a work of art that the client may be lucky enough to inhabit. Typically, the architects are not in the business of really getting at the roots of what would make the place psychologically fit the client, and those who do are often referred to (with more than a hint of derision) as "builders." That was why I found Travis' approach so interesting. But as David wonders, how can we all explore the roots of our feelings about spaces without Travis to guide us? Some of you may have read the recent nyt article on Travis' attempts to make his exercises (inexpensively) accessible on the web. I think even these simple exercises could offer tremendous benefits to people building, renovating, decorating, or buying a place because they offer a systematic procedure for exploring one's associations to spaces (rather than relying on chance realizations like the one that Sharon shared). In the longer term I hope that greater effort will be made in architecture schools to integrate psychology into the training of all these people who will end up building the world we live in. Applied Snoopology If we were to develop a field of applied snoopology, it should, as I suggested in an earlier post, start with an exploration of our own places and how they reflect our identities, feelings, and behaviors. As I noted before, most of these connections are driven by processes that come so naturally that we don't even notice them--we just think, "that picture would look good there" (not, "I need to regulate my arousal levels so I'd better hang a painting of a tranquil scene across from the dining table"). The links between people and places tend to fall into three categories. The first is identity claims, which are the deliberate statements we make about ourselves; we express our values, goals, attitudes, and identities by displaying items in our spaces (e.g., an Obama poster, a flag, a bumper sticker). These can be directed towards others (in which case they need to use a language that can be understood by our intended audience and placed in a location they will see, like in a public area of the living space or on a car bumper) or towards ourselves (in which case only we need to know the meaning and they can sit somewhere private, like a set of old geometry instruments won at a high-school science fair reminding the occupant of her original motivation to become a chemist). The second link is what I call feeling regulators, which are the things we do to spaces to affect how we think and feel. Very often we change location to affect our thoughts and feelings, like going to the library to concentrate or to a quiet beach to relax. Or we use music or other forms of media (at one time you may feel like watching an action movie, at another you'd prefer a comedy). We also arrange our places to alter how we feel too--a bathroom in one of the spaces I examined had been crafted into a calm, soothing, sanctuary but another was bright and exciting, designed instead to get the occupant awake and raring to go in the morning. The third link reflects are what I call "behavioral residue." Unlike identity claims and feeling regulators, which are ways we deliberately do things to the spaces around us, behavioral residues are the inadvertent reflections of our behaviors. The idea behind behavioral residue is that our actions reflect who we are and a subset of those actions leave a trace in the world (like an organized living space, or a theater ticket lying on the counter); so these traces may, given enough time for them to accumulate, reflect what a person is like. The applied snoopologist would bring this understanding to interpreting other peoples' spaces. Thinking about objects from this perspective leads to three questions that can be applied in snooping scenarios: First, and most obviously you need to know what the object is; "it's a desk calendar!" Second, you need to find out how it has been used. To do this, consider the state it's in; "oh, it was filled out a bit at the beginning, rather haphazardly, but hasn't been used much recently". Third, note the item's location because that will give you clues to its psychological function; "it has been placed where other people will see it". Of course, as I am careful to mention in my book, snooping will not always give you a definitive answer--there are cases where it might just narrow down the possible range of what a person is like or (as I mentioned before) help direct you to ask the right (i.e., most revealing) questions. And all the time, the snooper must be on the lookout for common easy-to-make snooping mistakes. Surprising the snooper and snoopee. One item that surprised both the snooper and snoopee is the item I found when I was both the snooper and the snoopee. It's my refrigerator (which I talk about in the last chapter of my book). I had always been curious about my refrigerator because unlike the chaos to be found in other areas of my home (like the desk, cd collection, bathroom cabinets, food cupboards), the fridge was immaculately organized, with neat rows of sodas, drink mixers, and beers on every shelf going all the way to the back. It was not until I had met Chris Travis that I figured out the psychological story behind this unusually organized enclave in my home. Travis had remarked that it was amazing how often his clients at a very basic emotional level are trying, without realizing it, to recreate the feelings (such as warmth, security) they experienced as a child at a grandparent's home. Only after meeting Travis did it dawn on me that I had done the same thing--the refrigerator, always stocked to the brim with drinks, recreated a sense of plenty that I had experienced as a child at my grandmother's house, where my brother and I were at liberty to consume as many bottles of tonic water as we pleased. It was this experience that drove home in very personal way how deeply (and often unconsciously) we are connected to our spaces.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 26 Aug 08 23:35
I loved that story in the book. It sent me off into a fantasy about an architectural psychiatrist who sits you on a couch and says "when did brutalism first hurt you?" On that note... reading the discussion of different standards (what I consider messy my friend considers tidy, and so forth) I did wonder, as a sort of meta-snooping, how much insight is there to be gained from my own opinion of my behavior? If I consider my tidy room messy, does that give greater insight into my score on the neurotic scale? It's a bit like the revelation about narcissists, that even when confronted with their, what did you call it, their over claiming, they argue that they really did know something about a fake person. What does that tell you? (Besides, wow, the human mind is an amazing thing)
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 27 Aug 08 01:14
That's another great question David. Personality psychologist Robert Hogan has argued that self-reports of our behavior are little more than identity statements--how we'd like to be regarded. And informant reports (i.e., reports of personality by ones' friends, etc.) are little more than reputational statements. Of course, the idea is that both kinds of reports are rooted, at least in part, in reality. I think Hogan's point is important but I think there's much more to self and informant reports than identity and reputation. One of the additional things we bring to reports of ourselves and others is our implicit standards (as David suggests). Frequently, two people will agree on what happened but disagree on what it meant; Becci thinks Alfie's behavior was very rude but Jess thinks it's perfectly ok. These discrepancies don't happen that often (although we tend to notice them when they do) but they do bring up the question of which source of information we should prefer. The answer depends on the circumstances. If I was hiring someone to work for me, I would want to know how they actually behaved (i.e., are they really punctual, organized, broad minded, and outgoing) no matter how they thought they behaved; that of course, is why traces in physical spaces are so useful--because they reveal real behaviors that have been performed, not biased estimates. But if I really wanted to get to know someone--perhaps if I was developing a romantic relationship with a person, I would want to know how she saw herself regardless of whether it was true; so if the person saw herself as constantly being the victim (getting passed over for promotions, always getting neglected by others and getting the raw end of the deal), even if it wasn't a fair reflection of reality, I would not know that person well unless I was aware of that self-view. Given that personality is partly reflected in how we see the world, I can learn something about you by looking at your standards of judging yourself and others.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Thu 28 Aug 08 14:58
When I'm having regular conflicts with someone at work, I'll often do the same exercise -- finding out how they perceive their behavior will often give me an insight into why we're not getting along. This is slightly tangential to the subject of self-image, but I found myself dubious about the section on international characteristics -- that Japan is high on these characteristics, China low on others, etc. The sticking point for me was the idea that certain clusters of behaviors attach to certain characteristics regardless of culture -- that walking fast in Japan necessarily means the same thing it does in the US, for example. That just seemed more US-centric than makes sense. Or am I imagining that there's more difference than there really is?
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Fri 29 Aug 08 01:10
You're talking about the "pace of life" research right? I think you're certainly right that the same behavior can have different meanings in different cultures. But one way the pace-of-life researchers addressed this issue was to use multiple indexes of pace-of-life. So not only did they look at average walking speed in different cities around the world but they also looked at other elements like whether the clocks were accurate and how long it took to buy a stamp. To the extent these different indicators pointed in the same direction, it's likely that their meanings were similar to one another, even if they are not identical. And by using multiple indicators the researchers also insulate themselves a bit from cases where an indicator (like walking speed) means different things in different cultures; that is, even if walking speed is unrelated (or even negatively related) to pace of life in country X, its effect is diluted by the other indicators all of which point in the same direction. That, of course, is why its good measurement practice to get as many different indicators of a construct (whether it's pace of life or extraversion or wealth, etc.) as you can. One could come up with any number of criticisms of the various indicators (e.g., all other things being equal, we might expect people living in places with relatively tall people to walk faster on average than people living in places with relatively short people) but to undermine studies with multiple indicators you need to generate arguments that suggest all (or most) of the indicators are wrong AND they are all wrong in the same direction.
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 30 Aug 08 12:09
What has been most interesting -- and enlightening -- for me in this book and discussion is clarification of some things I've always thought to be contradictory. One would expect -- I thought -- a quiet, reserved, introverted person to have a quiet and conservatively arranged home. *So* not true for me. Also not true that I'm always quiet and reserved, though I'm unquestionably an introvert. An introvert who taught, and practices, assertiveness; and who is quite willing to take charge when my skills are called for. And quite happy to have someone else take charge, as well. So I'm interested to see an approach that makes room for some unexpected congruences. It helps to understand my extroverted friend whose house is pretty, but completely conventional. Though I still struggle a bit with the language. Openness meaning open to experience, to difference; not openness, necessarily, to other people. Not the person who tells the stranger on the bus her life story. So -- one can be open, and closed, at once?
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Sat 30 Aug 08 18:25
Right. A lot the labels used for the big five personality dimensions are quite confusing because they overlap only partially with how the words are used in ordinary everyday language. Openness is a great example because it's thought to mean openness to people, as Sharon suggests, and also it also sometimes means flexible (as in a pushover). But as Sharon notes the big five definition is really about intellectual openness--to ideas and experiences. So you could be open to people but closed in terms of the big five openness. You could also be open and closed at the same time by having different scores on facets within the broader dimension--generally high on most the openness facets but low on one or two.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 30 Aug 08 22:55
For those of you who haven't read the book, I do recommend the link Sam posted earlier -- (http://www.personal.psu.edu/~j5j/IPIP/). Seeing myself reflected in the "big five" really helped to illustrate them for me. Of course it may reflect some level of narcissism on my part that when I take a test of this sort, I measure the reliability by how closely it matches my own self-image :-) On the subject of narcissism, I was fascinated by the over-claiming questionnaire, and the idea that people high in narcissism are so sure of their own opinion that they will actually disagree about which people on the test actually exist. Do you find the same pattern in people high in the other four of the Big Five characteristics? Do people high in agreeableness delude themselves about whether a person is agreeable in return, for example?
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Sun 31 Aug 08 15:44
David, Narcissism is not one of the big five dimensions. But different personalities do see the world (including other people) differently. As you might expect, people high on agreeableness tend to be more charitable in their views of others (even when rating other big five variables) than less agreeable people. Also, a robust finding is that people tend to see others as they see themselves; but note this is only a tendency, so it's not like we see all others as being exactly like ourselves but on average, extraverts see others as more extraverted than introverts do, open people tend to see others as more open than closed people do, etc. --some researchers have framed this effect in terms of projection.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 1 Sep 08 21:55
Uh, oh, my notes failed me. There it is in the book, of course. We're coming to the end of our two weeks, pretty soon, and I wanted to make sure we talk about the future a bit. What's on the horizon for this field? What's there left to look into?
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 3 Sep 08 03:11
I think a lot of fascinating questions remain to be examined, many of which we've touched upon in these discussions. For example, I think some of the issues surrounding culture have a lot of potential; I'd be interested in empirically examining how these connections between people and their spaces play out across different cultures. I'm also being increasingly drawn to examine the many virtual environments that are playing larger and larger roles in our lives. What psychological needs are being met by the social networking sites that now occupy huge amounts of time and energy in some circles? What's the appeal of the virtual worlds found in second life and multi-player online video games? It seems somewhat odd that the former has floundered but interest in the latter has soared. Some of our initial findings are suggesting that there is no one motivation driving people to participate in these activities: Some people (extraverts) use the games primarily to interact with others but others use them primarily as a procrastination strategy that makes the use feel vaguely productive. And what's going on with the characters that people use to represent themselves in these spaces? Within the environments I have studied, I'd also like to look more closely at issues of identity. The vast majority of studies in the past have looked at traits (like the big five) because they are easy to measure. But, identity, which presents a much bigger challenge to measure, has been relatively neglected. But to me identity is one of the richest untapped seams in psychology so I'd love to do more work on this topic.
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Wed 3 Sep 08 10:45
Could you expand a bit on that? The differences between personality/ traits and identity?
(dana) Wed 3 Sep 08 11:38
This has been a fascinating discussion, and while it doesn't have to end now, we'll be turning the virtual spotlight on a new conversation this week. Thank you, Sam and David. Please feel free to stick around as long as you like.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 3 Sep 08 14:42
Thanks for a great conversation, Sam!
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 3 Sep 08 23:31
Sharon, yes. Personality traits, like sociability, curiosity, anxiety, etc., are what Dan McAdams calls "the psychology of the stranger," good for a first read on a person. They tell you about regularities in the person's patterns of behaving, thinking, and feeling. These traits are what the Big Five personality dimensions capture. They are useful if, say, you want to know if someone would be an effective employee or roommate or colleague. But if you really want to know that person, Dan McAdams claims (and I agree with him) that you need to delve deeper. If you dig below traits you get to a person's values, goals, roles, etc. And if you keep digging beyond that, you get to person's identity--his or her sense of who she is, which consists of a story we tell about ourselves with a sense of where we came from and where we're going. I think people's spaces are interesting because they often allow you to get at this kind of identity related information. Chapters 2 & 3 of my book deal with these ideas.
Sam Gosling (samgosling) Wed 3 Sep 08 23:32
Thanks David and all for your great questions/ideas/thoughts.
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