The Secrets in Your Stuff

Sam Gosling is a distinguished psychologist who employs an unusual technique to probe personalities. He likes to snoop, and not just in your medicine cabinet. Gosling wants to go through all your stuff -- even sit in your bathtub -- to find out what's going on in your head.

His new book, "Snoop," is based on the theory that sometimes going through a person's belongings can provide insight into personality.

"A snooper does what we all do in looking around people's places," Gosling said. "I think we all do it. It's a very natural thing to do, but really as a snooper you are trying to bring an understanding of the psychology behind it, what drives the placement of objects."


The first thing Gosling does is sit down in a space and look around, "giving the salient items time to fade away a bit, and the broader themes to come out."

"Nightline" decided to test Gosling at the office of his friend and colleague, John Jost, at New York University. The fellow psychologist didn't mind Gosling's snooping and said that while he tidied up his office beforehand, he didn't do any major organizing.

Gosling went through drawers, examined pictures, checked the status of office supplies and analyzed the position of Jost's desk -- all providing clues to Jost's personality.

The goal, Gosling said, is to "look at the big picture. And look for themes. Because any single item could be misleading. There could be something here that really doesn't reflect what the occupant is like. It's just there because it's for a teaching demonstration, or a gift for somebody else, or things that aren't really important, or somebody else left it there."

He won't make a judgment about Jost solely based on the fact that he has a book in his office called "Why Men Rebel."

"It should be one piece of the puzzle," he said. "It could reflect many different things, you know? There are many different reasons you might have that. So we have to try to narrow down the likely reasons you have that."

Gosling noted that Jost's office is "pretty organized," and said that he can tell a lot from someone's music collection. Jost has a lot of classic rock.

"So people who like rock, they tend to be higher on openness," Gosling said. "And also people who like classical ... and jazz, actually."

On the other hand, he also said that "people who like rock tend to be lower on conscientiousness, so looking at this, I'd have to combine that with my other rating saying that he was higher on conscientiousness. So it's all a puzzle, you're always combining bits of information here."

The contents of someone's office can even indicate how he might vote, according to Gosling, who said that Jost's openness trait would align him with "people who vote for liberal candidates."

And indeed, Jost said he is a liberal and is planning to vote for Barack Obama.

"I think Sam is an excellent personality psychologist and a very perceptive person," Jost said. "And I think he would get at least an A-, maybe an A."

Gosling also visited Jamie Napier, a graduate student at NYU. He described the office she shares with two colleagues as having a "sort of strong, post-feminist kind of strong and sexy look. ... Competent, but not at the expense of being, you know, glamorous and feminine."

An empty wine bottle, some hair glitter, mail from 2006, a few razors in a drawer -- all became part of Gosling's evaluation.

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