The Art of Snooping

By Kate Hassett

Professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Sam Gosling is a snoop: his research is dedicated to interpreting how we exist in our spaces, and what those spaces ultimately say about us.

Be it a boardroom or bedroom, spaces are intrinsically personal – someone has been there before. They may lived there with their possessions; their hand-picked furniture, their clothes, their things. Items which, for reasons known or unknown, have been a source of comfort or necessity for themselves, and inevitably a source of curiosity or envy for others.

Seeing what others have and what others are doing – yes, snooping – is an age-old characteristic of the human race, according to academic Sam Gosling, recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution. “As humans, other humans have always been the biggest sources of opportunity and threat, so we are constantly trying to figure out what others are like in the background … It’s important to know that if your house is a certain way, people will unconsciously be forming certain impressions of you,” he says.

The idea of how background assumptions so often lead to generalisations and misinformation sparked Gosling’s initial interest in the subject – people leave signs and clues of themselves behind in the spaces they inhabit, but these clues, he found, are not always black and white.

There was no exact algorithm for determining why a person has a particular fondness for a specific object. Instead, Gosling focuses on the themes prevalent within spaces – how that space is organised, separated or combined and what variety is present. “People need to create a space that helps them express themselves to others; it helps them regulate their own feelings and have things in a way that allows them to be effective”

These spaces are more important than people realise, according to Gosling. “If you look at research on emotions and cognitive activity, nobody talks about space, even though it’s one of the most prevalent ways we process emotions.” It’s where we relax, think about friends and family, process our emotions, work and sleep.

Gosling hopes that his research will help us rethink our spaces and the impact they are not only having on our health, but also our effectiveness. His current research is based around social perceptions in everyday environments and urban spaces, and how designing to meet these needs can transform the way we work, now and in the future.

“You know, some people need to have certain things to work; it just feels natural for them to do that. So yeah I think it’s very interesting and very important in light of our relationship to space and what spaces are doing.”

Sam Gosling is one of the speakers at Wired For Wonder, in Sydney on August 26-27 and Melbourne on August 28.






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