Book Report - Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You

This is my first book report I'm publishing on this blog - a mostly unedited push of the personal notes that I take on books whose content I find particularly fascinating and want to retain. Let me know what you think.

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling is an excellent book on what the things we own and how they're arranged say about us as people. Majorly relying on the Five Factor Model of personality, Snoop gives fascinating, data-driven analyses of the assumptions that we make -- and the ones we should be making -- about people based on the stuff in their room, office, or even on their bodies.

  • Author: Sam Gosling
  • Released: 2009-05-12
  • Pages: 274

Overall Clueing

Three broad mechanisms connect people to the spaces that surround them:

  • Identity claims - “I am this” - symbolic statements, directed to either others or self.
  • Feelings regulators - “This makes me feel this"
  • Behavioral residue - Physical traces let behind by our everyday actions (like uncleaned desks, clutter, etc.)

We form psychological spaces from our things in physical spaces. Pay attention to who people want you to think they are, who they believe themselves to be, and what they want to feel / remember.

Placement determines the psychological function that a clue serves (i.e. is it for them or for others). Pay attention to public vs. private spaces - work is often what people want you to see. Look for discrepancies in signals that people send about themselves and others. (Pay attention to your own discrepancies).

Public spaces can include private spaces (like behind your desk at work if others can’t see behind it).

Messages can compensate for weaknesses, such as in Carol Werner’s study where less sociable people decked out their houses for Christmas to appear sociable.

Optimal performance is associated with an optimal level of arousal, which is what feelings regulators can be used for.

People have different optimal arousal levels. Some people read in total quiet while others thrive in busy environments. Much of our environmental items exist to manage our emotions and thoughts (feelings regulators).

Anxious people high on neuroticism use inspirational messages and self-affirmations as emotional self-medication.

Pay attention to levels of organization, types of grouping/categorization for insights into how people group things. Messy -> low conscientiousness.

Unobtrusive measures of analyzing people. Less scientific but still revealing. Example, the Narcissus test: check for whether people check themselves out in mirrors and window.

A definition of personality: an individual’s unique pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving that is consistent over time. For a behavior to be part of your personality, it should be something you do repeatedly.

Trash is a great source of personality as people often do not curate it (called "refuse analysis”).

Theophrastus, the first personality psychologist, scribbled personalities down at Greek parties. This work is called “The Characters”.

Big Five

Openness (Leonardo da Vinci)

  • + Creative, imaginative, abstract, curious, deep thinkers, inventive, value art and aesthetic experiences
  • - Conventional, concrete, traditional, preferring the known to the unknown


  • Imagination: High scorers tend to engage in fantasy to create a more interesting world.
  • Artistic Interests: High scorers appreciate beauty in art and nature and are involved and absorbed in aesthetics.
  • Emotionality: High scorers tend to have good access to and awareness of their feelings.
  • Adventurousness: High scorers are eager to try new activities, travel to foreign lands, and have different experiences.
  • Intellect: High scorers love to play with ideas; they are open-minded to new and unusual ideas, and they enjoy debating intellectual issues.
  • Psychological Liberalism: High scorers are ready to challenge authority, convention, and traditional values.


  • + Thorough, dependable, reliable, hardworking, task focused, efficient, good planners
  • - Disorganized, late, careless, impulsive


  • Self-Efficacy: High scorers believe they have the intelligence, drive, and self--control necessary for achieving success.
  • Orderliness: High scorers are well-organized people who like to live according to routines and schedules; they keep lists and make plans.
  • Dutifulness: High scorers tend to have a strong sense of moral obligation.
  • Achievement-Striving: High scorers strive hard to achieve excellence; they often have a strong sense of direction.
  • Self-Discipline: High scorers have the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed. They are able to overcome reluctance to begin tasks and they stay on track despite distractions.
  • Cautiousness: High scorers take their time when making decisions.


  • + Talkative, energetic, enthusiastic, assertive, outgoing, sociable
  • - Reserved, quiet, shy


  • Friendliness: High scorers genuinely like other people and openly demonstrate positive feelings toward others; they make friends quickly and it is easy for them to form close, intimate relationships.
  • Gregariousness: High scorers find the company of others pleasantly stimulating and rewarding; they enjoy the excitement of crowds.
  • Assertiveness: High scorers like to speak out, take charge, and direct the activities of others.
  • Activity Level: High scorers lead fast-paced, busy lives; they move about quickly, energetically, and vigorously, and they are involved in many activities.
  • Excitement-Seeking: High scorers are easily bored without high levels of stimulation. They love bright lights and hustle and bustle and like to take risks and seek thrills.
  • Cheerfulness: High scorers typically experience a range of positive feelings, including happiness, enthusiasm, optimism, and joy.


  • + Helpful, selfless, sympathetic, kind, forgiving, trusting, considerate, cooperative
  • - Fault finding, quarrelsome, critical, harsh, aloof, blunt


  • Trust: High scorers assume that most people are fair, honest, and have good intentions.
  • Morality: High scorers see no need for pretense or manipulation when dealing with others; they are candid, frank, and sincere.
  • Altruism: High scorers find that doing things for others is a form of self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice.
  • Cooperation: High scorers dislike confrontations; to get along with others, they are willing to compromise or to deny their own needs.
  • Modesty: High scorers do not like to claim that they are better than other people.
  • Sympathy: High scorers are tenderhearted and compassionate. They feel the pain of others vicariously and are easily moved to pity.


  • + Anxious, easily ruffled or upset, worried, moody
  • - Calm, relaxed, able to handle stress well, emotionally stable


  • Anxiety: High scorers often feel as if something dangerous were about to happen; they tend to feel tense, jittery, and nervous.
  • Anger: High scorers are inclined to feel angry; they are sensitive about being treated fairly and feel resentful and bitter when they feel they are being cheated.
  • Depression: High scorers tend to feel sad, dejected, and discouraged; they lack energy and have difficulty initiating activities.
  • Self-Consciousness: High scorers are sensitive about what others think of them; they are easily embarrassed and often feel ashamed.
  • Immoderation: High scorers have difficulty resisting strong cravings and urges and tend to be oriented toward short-term pleasures and rewards rather than long-term consequences.
  • Vulnerability: High scorers experience panic, confusion, and helplessness when under pressure or stress.

You can construct personality types quickly by mixing and matching two big 5 attributes at a time. Beware that people are mostly a blend but it can be useful. (This would be a total of 20 combinations, which is easily memorizable.)

EXAMPLE - on a cross of agreeableness vs neuroticism:

  • -neuroticism / -agreeableness -> unemotional
  • -neuroticism / +agreeableness -> easygoing, optimistic
  • +neuroticism / +agreeableness -> sensitive, sentimental
  • +neuroticism / -agreeableness -> angry / intolerant

(Always be aware of your perception of social situations, groups of people, physical places. It may be incorrect and cause you to move against the grain in social interactions. Be flexible.)

Individual facets of traits can be correlated to one another (but not always). Facets can sometimes be distinct / different. Some facets are confusing and differ from layman’s parlance (see ).

Deeper personality - goals, needs, hopes, and dreams, self-perceptions. (Questions to ask about people - “what is the underlying narrative of this person’s life?” There is a series of questions that socially can elicit the truth about people, or a proper narrative over time.)

Getting to know someone means be progressing through three distinct levels of intimacy you progress through these in sequence — don’t jump too fast:

  1. Traits / facets provide a psychology of stranger.
  2. Personal concerns, contextual details: goals, skills, values.
  3. Identity, bedrock of personality. “An inner story of the self that integrates the reconstructed past, perceived present, and anticipated future to provide a life with unity, purpose, and meaning. Thread of our experience. Drives and guides future behaviors.

(When you are young / new to a field, you don’t know anything and absorb the presented reality without question. But you must customize it, adapt it, make it work for you.)

Getting to know somebody means locating the core of their identity, defining moments. People will tie more closely to the same traits and identify them. Look for outbursts, reactions, etc. as a way to determine what those traits are when they are accidentally (or intentionally) challenged.

Belgian Solution - a flexible way to assess spaces. Look for consistent patterns across domains and don’t apply any single item too heavily (it could be a gift, random, or some other unknowable reason)

Personality Diagnostics

Analyzing walks

  • Openness
    • NOT: refined appearance, made up face, fashionable dress, slim physique, friendly / self-assured expression, extensive smiling, pleasant voice, fluent speech, easy to understand, calm speaking, no camera avoidance
  • Conscientiousness
    • Formal dress.
    • NOT: refined appearance, plain dress, controlled sitting posture, touches own body infrequently, fluent speech, easy to understand, calm speaking
  • Extraversion
    • Friendly expression, self-assured expression, extensive smiling, refined appearance, lifts feet when walking (vs shuffling), relaxed walking, swings arms when walking, loud voice, powerful voice.
    • NOT: Made up face, showy dress, fast movements, frequent head movements, pleasant voice, easy to understand
  • Agreeableness
    • Soft facial lineaments, friendly expression.
    • NOT: extensive smiling, pleasant voice, does not avoid camera
  • Neuroticism
    • Dark garments.
    • NOT: unpleasant voice, less muscular physique, halting speech, grumpy expression, difficult to understand, timid expression, hectic speech, little smiling, avoids the camera, lack of arms swinging with walk, stiff walking style, weak voice

Don’t pull too much from walking or talking style. Conscientious people are more likely to be prepared for occasions as opposed to dressed some specific way. Skin <-> grooming / diet correlation. Look for facial expression impressions on the skin of older people.

Personality factors attributed by descriptors

  • Openness
    • Unattractive, messy, disorganized, unhealthy, creative, unconventional
  • Conscientiousness
    • NOT: attractive, neat, organized, healthy, relaxed, conventional
  • Extraversion
    • Attractive, cheerful, relaxed.
    • NOT: conventional
  • Agreeableness
    • Cheerful, relaxed
  • Neuroticism
    • Unhealthy
  • Narcissism
    • Stylish, expensive clothes, spends time polishing appearance. Female only - feminine, makeup, picked eyebrows, cleavage. Muscular.
    • NOT: fraternity / sorority types, cheerful, masculine (male).

Consensus among observers bears little relation to their accuracy. Anxious people wear out their brakes quickly by riding them constantly. Expensive cars ~> older owners.

Handshaking: firm shakers and weak shakers. Males typically have stronger handshakes. Firm shakes ~> +extraversion, -neuroticism/shyness. In women only it correlates to openness. Limp shakes ~> -extraversion, +neuroticism/unexpensive. Firm handshakes tend to form positive impressions.

Word usage

Extraverts tend to use language about social events and positive emotions and to avoid words expressing negative emotion. They make distinctions with exclusive words (but, without, except), tentative words (perhaps, maybe), and negatives (no, not, never).

People high on openness tend to use fewer first person singular pronouns (I, me, my) and more articles (a, an, the) and longer words while avoiding verbs in the present sense.

People high on neuroticism tend to use a lot of first-person singular pronouns, fewer articles, and fewer words expressing positive emotion.

I, me, my - linguistic markers of self-focus, used more by women, low status, suicidal poets, and depressed people. Also used more when people tell the truth, along with the exclusive words, which tend to mark complex thinking. More likely to “own” statements.

Socially desirable responding - people pretending to know stuff they don’t know to look good. Some people “overclaim” like this but there are varying degrees.

Narcissists are relatively unaffected by warnings on overcalling tests. Narcissists convince themselves they’re actually familiar with topics - this is called self-deceptive enhancement, the tendency to give positively biased but honest self-descriptions.

Daniel Ames at Columbia University school of business administered a personality to his students, one of whom scored max on the narcissism test. “I aced the narcissism test — I got every single question right.” The obstinacy of narcissism. Also an unlimited ability to absorb compliments - absolute credulity in the face of flattery.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life - We have life scripts that we role-play and look at to make life easier to understand, like acting and dressing like a lawyer, teacher, etc. People normalize their own personality attributes and forget that others are different or that they may be outliers. To normalize your own perspective, you need many data points.

Self verification-theory - we want to be seen as we see ourselves. (Agree with people’s worldview and they think you’re like them.) Employees with a low sense of self-esteem were more likely to leave a company after a pay raise than without them (Because it is discordant with their view of what they deserve). Those with low testosterone are more troubled by winning than losing.

Websites are the best places to learn about people’s personalities.


Clues have a ranking of ability to be manipulated.

  1. Deliberate symbols (gay pride flag)
  2. Modifications of environment (creating a comfortable space)
  3. Inadvertant signals (behavioral residue)

Tips for detecting personality forgery:

  1. Look for consistency in the information being presented.
  2. Look for incentives to appear a certain way.
  3. Pay attention to personality seepage.
  4. Don’t be fooled by the position only you (visitor, stranger) can see.

Personality varies by place. Stereotypes are useful for a quick initial judgment hypothesis.


  • Liberals:
    • Egalitarian
    • Interested in social diversity
    • + Openness
    • + Extraversion
    • - Conscientiousness
    • Many books, CDs, music, world music, folk music, classic and modern rock, oldies.
    • Art supplies, stationary, movie tickets, cultural memorabilia.
  • Republicans:
    • Traditional
    • Prefer gradual change
    • - Openness (neurologically more resistant to change)
    • - Extraversion
    • + Conscientiousness
    • More organizational items. Flags, sports items, alcohol bottles and containers.

Women rank higher on neuroticism than men. People are good at guessing the gender of occupants of rooms. Men are much more likely to hang things on hooks than women.

It’s easy to have a strong indicator color your perception, be careful! Asians score lower than whites on openness. (Socioeconomic, cultural, and familial circumstances influence personality.) White people are sensitive to black / white racial information, black people generally are not.

Formality of dress indicates an applicant’s work motivation in a job interview.

Don’t conflate conscientiousness with agreeableness.

Bedroom Guide

  • Openness
    • Distinctive, variety of books, variety of magazines, variety of music, books on art and poetry, art supplies.
    • NOT: decorated and cluttered, quantities of books, quantities of music
  • Conscientiousness
    • Organized, neat, uncluttered, well lit, organized books, organized music, organized magazines.
    • NOT: cheerful and colorful, good condition, clean, clothing put away, organized stationary
  • Extraversion
    • NOT: decorated and cluttered
  • Agreeableness
    • NOT: cheerful and colorful, organized, new, clean, clothing put away, good condition, comfortable, inviting
  • Neuroticism
    • Inspirational posters.
    • NOT: stale air.


Sentimental hoarders and utilitarian hoarders. Apparently in studies of hoarders, they are unusually low on entitlement and narcissism. Collectors enjoy their collections but hoarders find their situations distressing.

Office Space Guide

  • Openness
    • at this point what you’d expect
  • Conscientiousness
    • at this point what you’d expect
  • Extraversion
    • Inviting, decorated, cheerful
  • Agreeableness
    • High-traffic location.
    • NOT: inviting
  • Neuroticism
    • Decorated.
    • NOT: uninviting

Differences in personality displays between locations can indicate external motivating factors (like impressing a boss).

First impressions count. The first thing we hear will filter subsequent things. A good way to counter this is to avoid gut reactions and to “sit” with spaces/clues. Clues impact other clues. Mind the gap - compare clues known to be public with clues thought to be private. You may not have the context to recognize some details that others could (i.e. man looking at lipstick brands).

Jazz music listeners ~> less anxious than people who don’t like it.

Fridges, email names, eating styles, tend not to have relevant information (except in extreme cases). Bedrooms are best.

People can / may relate to the narratives of stories that they particularly love.

Misc. thoughts / facts:

  • Beware 20/20 hindsight bias
  • Sam Gosling lives in Austin!
  • Excessive negative word usage is not correlated with breakup longevity in couples, but positive word frequency is.
  • Sprightly gait - lifting feet, swinging arms - is a clue towards extraversion.
  • Good measures of identity: the 20 statements test, where you say “I am..” followed by as many descriptors as possible in 12min

Big Five Test:

Facets of big 5 psychology: