By Sam Gosling, PhD (Basic Books, 2008)
Even if you’ve never peeked into a host’s medicine cabinet (which would make you a rare person), this fresh and funny “field guide to snooping” is a captivating read. Gosling, a University of Texas research psychologist, is well known for his landmark study of student dorm rooms (cited in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Blink), in which researchers accurately predicted the personality traits of the occupants based solely on their stuff. Here, Gosling introduces readers to the snooper’s psychological art and deploys an entertaining combination of case studies, psychological tests, and research profiles to teach would-be detectives which clues to character really matter (book collections, iPod lists, refrigerator interiors) and which don’t (the placement of a political poster reveals nearly as much about its owner as its message does). While this might sound like nosiness for its own sake — or an excuse to judge people based on their things or cleaning habits — the book concludes with a compassionate analysis of how our spaces tend to unknowingly reflect psychological needs for comfort established early in life. So, while there is a guilty delight to the process, the ultimate goal of Gosling’s “snoopology” is not judgment, but understanding. A fascinating read for the chronically curious and an insightful guide for anyone interested in what our environments say about us.