Are You What You Wear/Buy/Sit On/Sleep In/Talk To?

I recently finished reading “Snoop” by psychologist Sam Gosling which looked at how people reveal themselves to others. It also looks at how we form impressions of other people. One of the ways we ‘reveal’ and ‘judge’ is through artifacts → eg: our stuff!! Gosling and his team of researchers did lots of ‘stuff’ research, particularly peoples bedrooms and offices. They also analyzed things like interviews, handshakes and websites which proved for some really intriguing results, if you fancy reading the book yourself. I recommend it!

It was the ‘stuff’ bit through that I honed in on for my latest assignment, particularly the study on students dorm rooms at an American University. Goslings analysis’s had to go into a students room (without meeting them) and draw up a ‘picture’ of what they were like. What clues to their personality did they reveal? Were they male or female? Were they religious? academic? open? organized? etc… you get the idea.

For my assignment however I was just given photographs of my partners room, who in turn got pictures of mine. All I knew about her was that her name was Meghan, she was also in second year at Dundee and she studied Interior and Environmental design. From the photographs I had to have a good look, sorry ‘snoop’, at her things and try to guess a few things about her. What does her room tell me about her?

{One word of warning I particularly remembered was to not assume too much from one thing. A few of the analysts made huge assumptions on objects that did not belong to the person. For example a pair of high heels in amongst an otherwise boyish room caused them to conclude it was a female. So I wanted to step back, take a broad scope of the room and not be too presumptuous! }

So, what did I think….

___ Desk

→ Used plate lying on desk suggests she eats in her room, no dining room? uni flat bedroom? She’s not overly tidy/fussy > things don’t have to be tidied away the second they are finished with but the room is quite tidy (things have their place), she maybe more of a sporadic tidier?

→ Mirror does not match the desk furniture, which if it is a uni flat will have been provided – did she bring it up from home?

→ The desk does not look as if it’s used for work too much > mirror, makeup and perfume = uses it as more of a dressing table > takes a pride in her appearance.

→ Photograph of girl and boy looks like a typical girlfriend/boyfriend photo. Girl looks pretty with nice, well kept hair – would fit in with the ‘dressing table desk’. Both are smiling and look happy together.

→ Photographs of in frame. Few select ones put together, is this to remind her of her family back home? Or are they her when she was younger > is she quite nostalgic of her childhood?
→ Three books on desk are separate from others > “Conservatories and glasshouses” > Are these for a current project? Does she leave things of importance lying out in sight? e.g to take with her to uni or due back to the library?

→ Lamp > brighter light for working at desk (which I don’t think she does very often)? does she prefer dim ‘mood’ lighting?

→ Camera box with bubble packaging = takes care of her things > responsible

___ Desk Close-Up

→ ‘Back of The Napkin’ book was recommended to us, not compulsory = takes her degree seriously, want’s to do well

→ Dvds and books have separate, defined shelves = organized, likes things to have a place (can’t see if they are in any kind of genre system or anything)

→ Most books are ‘Uni’ books = doesn’t read for leisure/fiction novels > possibly has these at home, If this is indeed her uni flat bedroom (which I think it is)

→ Mix of dark coloured dvd’s and white/coloured ones = broad taste in films (darker coloured dvds tend to be horror/action, lighter tend to be chic flicks and comedies etc)

→ ‘House’ and ‘Friends’ box-sets = likes mainstream American comedies/drama

→ Uses a Biscuit Tub for her stationary = Uni flat bedroom > students tend to have makeshift things!

→ Tub is from Marks and Spencer = good taste (in biscuits!) > not a value supermarket

→ Matching furniture and proper office desk/chair = student/works Are they her’s though?

→ Train ticket > travels home? travels to uni/work? travelled somewhere for a project or to meet someone?

→ Strange glass bottle with green thing? Looks like a kind of plant/biology experiment? Is it to do with her uni projects or did she like biology/growing things in school.

___ Windowsill

→ Wine and Pimm’s bottles > does she drink herself in her room? Perhaps she keeps them away from her flat-mates or perhaps she has people over in her room = likes social drinking/having a good time?

→ Lots of juice cartons > looks like cranberry or something pink like pomegranate. These flavors are normally more expensive, does she keep them out of her flat-mates reach? Does she live in the room a lot and likes to have snack food and drinks nearby for comfort = relaxed approach to studying.

→ Is all the food/drink leftover from having people over recently or does she like to eat and drink in her room – hideaway in it/lives in it a lot?

→ The plant is alive and flowering – she takes care of it = she’s conscientious

→ Lucozade – she’s maybe sporty or does a lot of studying and uses it for energy!

→ For anyone looking into her window the sill might make it look messy. This together with the ‘non-arranged’ objects room suggests the room is decorated for her, not for ‘show’.

→ The pretty pink bag and mirrored box don’t really fit in with the rest of her things. She is maybe quite girly but not overly.

→ Piggy bank > saves up loose change

___ Bed

→ The cosy blankets/housecoats and furry booties > likes to be warm and comfy

→ The laptop has a proper perch > works like this on her bed a lot (keeping cosy)

→ Bright green graphic quilt as well as the reds and blue’s in her clothes make the place
brighter and cheerier. Her way of adding some colour to the otherwise white room. She likes bright colours so lack of colour on walls again suggests a uni flat bedroom.

→ The bed is not perfectly made > slightly ruffled from being sat on > not overly fussy about how things look, her comfort and work come first.

→ Hairdryer > things don’t need to be put away straight after use / keeps things out she uses regularly > not enough space to give it a space?

→ Ipod dock/music > likes to play her music out loud in her room

___ Bed/Laptop View

→ Shoes lying on floor > she doesn’t mind a few things out of place.

→ Tv positioned for watching in bed or does she have a seat/couch on the other wall?

→ Plastic drawers don’t match – she brought them up herself (if a uni flat) organization system/filing or keeping things in place.

→ Some yummy chocolate and crisps! spends time snacking in the room a lot/has people in the room a lot?

→ Walls noticeably bare here > uni flat

___ Wardrobe

→ High heels > different styles/colours > has she brought up a selection from home that will go with different outfits? Apart from the red ones, the rest would go with most things. Are the red pair her favorite perhaps or did she buy them specially for a favorite outfit?

→High heels and some fancy clothes (the velvet looking trim, frills and flowers) > she likes getting dressed up and going out at night (clubs etc)

→ Pile of clothes neatly folded on side > takes care of things

→ Hangers are all the same > bought from somewhere or likes to have things properly organized.

→ Are the clothes in an organized system? (left to right) (Long and patterned going to jackets then to block colours then to patterns) Takes more time to organize her clothes, keeping them neat. Well-dressed and smart, un-creased clothes.

So, How did i do? Well I met Meghan today for lunch and we talked over our findings.

When i first made contact with her, via email I felt a little bit uncomfortable as we were sending each other these personal photo’s. Knowing that someone was going to be analyzing my room and drawing conclusions on me purely from these photos made me feel a little vulnerable! I got a bit worried about the kind of impression I might give off and what someone might think of me having never met me!

I actually felt a bit more comfortable when I got her photo’s, she was in the same position as me and would feel the same way. I think that not knowing Meghan resulted in my analysis being very broad and open-minded. I considered a lot of different explanations for things and looked for secondary clues that would back my assumptions up.

It seems I was quite accurate with a lot of my assumptions as well which was assuring. I also liked that she had did her analysis in a similar way to mine, with the questions and possible scenarios etc. Here’s what I found out from her as I told her what I guessed from my observations…

→ She does indeed live in a student flat and is not allowed to put things on the walls.

→ She does like to take care of her things and keep them nice, especially her camera, so she is quite responsible.

→ The dvds are a mix of genres but are also in alphabetical order as well as being separate!

→ The books are all mostly for her uni course as she prefers to relax with movies etc whilst up here.

→ The desk did come with the room and she did bring the mirror up and red drawers up. She also brought the bookshelves up too though as they matched the desk.

→ She does prefer to work on her bed with the tv on and her stuff around her. The cosy blankets are to keep her warm as her flat is cold! The lamp gets used when she is printing things off or doing detailed work on her desk (rather than for mood lighting)

→ It is her boyfriend in the big photograph. The other ones are random shots she had of her family and put together.

→ Dishes and things lying around don’t bother her too much and she does indeed tidy up once things get to a certain level of untidiness. She can put up with so much!

→ Everything in her room does have a place and she likes to be organized when she can

→ The separate books on the desk are borrowed from her aunt so she is keeping them nice and not getting them mixed up

→ The strange biology plant is actually a salad dressing that her boyfriend left in her room!

→ She doesn’t like coppers so always puts them in the Piggy Bank so not exactly for saving more getting rid of/storing!

→ She does indeed like to spend a lot of time in the room and likes to be comfy and relaxed in it

→ The sweets were won in a raffle but she does have a sweet tooth!

→ The wine gets kept cold at her windowsill because the room is so cold so she doesn’t have people over for drinks before a night out

→ She does like to get dressed up and go out though and the Lucozade is her hangover cure!

→ The juice is indeed Cranberry and she drinks a lot of fruit juice so keeps it nearby!

→ The girly bag and mirrored drawers were both gifts so they were not her choice. She does like them though and keeps jewelry in them which she doesn’t wear that much. So not too, overly girly in that respect.

→ Her wardrobe is not big enough for her but she has tried to organize it as best she can. The clothes are not hanging in the particular way I thought they were but all the clothes are grouped e.g trousers etc.

Meghan was surprised I thought that her room looked like people might socialize in it e.g because of the food and casual look. She said that she struggles for space sometimes, especially with her wardrobe so wouldn’t have room for them! I think

The only thing that Meghan was surprised about was that I thought she maybe socialized in her room a lot. The food she has in it all has rational explanations for her so i can see why she was surprised at me guessing this. Other than that i think we both got on quite at guessing little things about each other.

I was really surprised at some the of accurate things she guessed about me. For example she guessed that I had a Job at home which i had to dress smartly for. She picked up on a lot of black trousers and a sash belt hanging from one pair and guessed I was maybe a waitress. Whilst not all the trousers are black – most are jeans that just didn’t photograph well. I do have a lot of smart navy/black smart trousers which I wear for my Saturday job at home, as a receptionist. I was really impressed/surprised that she guessed that! I found it funny that she mentioned me being like Monica from friends as she described how my things were organized in boxes etc as my friends always make fun of me for this!

Overall I would say that the exercise was fun, I learned a lot about how we reveal a lot more about ourselves than we maybe think we do. So I would say that it is a good research technique. For me though, more importantly, I learned first hand what it feels like to be the ‘guinea pig’. How vulnerable a position it can be and how worried you can feel when giving away personal things about yourself to a complete stranger.

This vulnerability is something that I would like to reduce as much as possible if I were to ever carry out this research tool on someone else. I only felt it slightly as I knew the in’s and outs of the assignment, I had read snoop and I knew what I was getting myself into. I was informed as to what was going on and I was comfortable with it. I would need to ensure that if I ever used this technique that my subjects were as informed as possible and knew what I was doing and more importantly why.

I was also aware at how uncomfortable I felt at the thought of someone making assumptions about me that may not be true or perhaps may be true but I don’t even know about myself! Is there anything she thought but didn’t want to say to me/out-loud? I was also scared about making these assumptions about her too, how would she react? What if she hadn’t been as nice as she was and perhaps taken offense to something I said. What if (and to be honest, quite rightly too) she hadn’t wanted me to post her pictures on my blog, or reveal her name. In fact, I am quite lucky she agreed to it all! (There was another option we could have did using friends photographs) This is where this research technique meets some very important ethical issues – particularly privacy. I know that from reading the ‘notes’ in snoop that Sam Gosling changed the names of his study students and even combined results so that the book would not reveal anyones personal identity. If I were to ever use this research method again, ‘for real’, I would take care to be very respectful and mindful of my subject(s) so as to make them feel less, well ‘guinea pig like’.

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