How to Be a Snoop

The way you arrange your home or office may reveal surprising results

Author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, Sam Gosling. (Marsha Miler)

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What advice do you have for everyday snoopers?
One is not to interpret a single object. Novice snoopers will go in and see a collection of Russian dolls and say, oh, this person is an expert on Russia, or they’ve visited Russia. Well, sure, but there are many reasons you could have those things in your space. Look for themes. Be cautious of items that are highly distinctive because those, by definition, are inconsistent with the themes in the room.

Why aren’t medicine cabinets revealing?
Despite the widespread belief that medicine cabinets say a lot, the sorts of things we have in them are so standard there’s not a rich palette of expression–unlike music, where there’s so much.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to snooping?
I think looking at people’s diaries, their journals, their trash and all those sorts of things will provide useful information. But, of course, doing so may compromise your relationship with that person.

Do people want to be seen for who they really are—or some cultivated image?
I think the automatic assumption of many people is to say well, that person is clearly trying to send a false impression. But what we know from the research is that many of the things that people are trying to tell others deliberately are authentic statements.

It would be hard for you to fake it because it takes such concerted effort to do that. You have to live the life of a broad-minded person or a conscientious person to have a space reflecting that. I tried to organize my cd collection. I said, I’m going to be the person who’s organized. And, of course, it only lasted for a day because I just don’t live my life that way. The other reason is that your personality affects how you see the world, so even if I was going to make my place look conscientious, I wouldn’t even think of some of the things that a truly conscientious person would have. I think, generally, people aren’t trying to fool us.

Have you always been a snoop in some sense?
Yeah. But quite frankly, I think most people have always been snoops. I think we’re intrinsically interested in other people. Other people have historically provided us the greatest threats and opportunities so I think we’re biologically prepared to detect what other people are like. I think it’s very important for us to feel that others, and ourselves, are kind of predictable.


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