Social Psychology Network

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Sam Gosling

Sam Gosling

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I am a personality/social psychologist with three main areas of interest. First, in my work on social perception, I study fundamental issues in impression formation: How do people form impressions on the basis of how others behave, what they look like, and cues in the physical environment? In much of this work I focus on issues of consensus and accuracy; for example, I compare the cues people use to make personality inferences to the cues that are actually valid. Second, in my cross-species work, I examine how research on animals can inform theories of personality and social psychology. For example, I have studied individual differences in personality and social behaviors in several species as well as how personality traits are perceived and described in humans and other animals, such as hyenas, dogs, and cats. I use these findings as a comparative framework in which to contextualize findings from research on human personality. More generally, my research draws on evolutionary as well as ecological principles: Evolutionary because Darwin's theory provides a framework for integrating research across species boundaries, and ecological because we cannot understand organisms independent of the environments in which they live. Finally, I am interested in evaluating and developing new methods for collecting data online.


Our research on social perception aims to understand basic processes of everyday impression formation. We are examining how individuals use cues in everyday environments to form personality impressions of others. For example, is it possible to form an impression of an individual's personality and values merely by observing their bedroom? And if so, are such impressions accurate? We are also examining impressions of personality based on musical preferences, appearance, websites, Facebook profiles, and physical appearance.


Our research on animals focuses on (a) developing animal models to inform research in personality, social, and health psychology, and (b) using perceptions of animal personality to understand general processes of personality perception.

Animal models are useful because they permit experimental studies of personality that would not be possible in humans. The first stage of our research program is to appraise the viability of assessing personality in non-human animals. The second stage is to develop appropriate assessment methods. The third stage is to implement the findings of Stages 1 and 2 to address questions in personality, social, and health psychology. Research on non-human animals is well suited to answering some longstanding questions in the field (e.g., What is the impact of early environment on personality development?). This research can also address issues in animal welfare (e.g., Can pets be effectively matched with suitable owners?). Our research suggests that it is viable to measure personality in animals and impressions of animal personality do not merely reflect anthropomorphic projections.

In a cross-species review that included studies of octopuses, guppies, rats, pigs, dogs, cats, donkeys, hyenas, monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees, we found evidence for a separate conscientiousness dimension in humans and chimpanzees but not in any of the other species reviewed.

I maintain an on-line bibliography of research on animal personality. If you would like to learn more about the field, this might be a good place to start your explorations. There is a link to the bibliography at my home page.


Since 1996 we have taken advantage of the Internet as a means for collecting data on personality and self-esteem. Although data collected via the Internet is subject to limitations (e.g., obtaining data only from individuals with web access), this method also has a number of advantages (e.g., reaching well beyond the populations that characterize most psychological research; obtaining large sample sizes; Gosling et al., 2004, 2010), especially when used in conjunction with conventional research methods.

The sample sizes we have been able to collect using internet techniques have permitted us to perform analyses and address questions that have hitherto remained unanswered. For example, in our studies of personality development (e.g., Srivastava et al., 2003; Soto et al., 2008, 2011), the large number of participants (typically in the hundreds of thousands or millions) has allowed us to test linear, quadratic, and cubic age trends as well as interactions between the trends and gender that would not be possible using conventional methods. Moreover, we have enough participants at each particular age to track trends in personality change with a high degree of fidelity (see e.g., Robins et al., 2002; Soto et al., 2008, 2011; Wood et al., 2007).

In a study of music preferences (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003), we used the Internet to complement our self-report measures of music preferences collected in Austin, Texas. The internet allowed us to obtain data on music preferences that was not dependent on self-reports and did not over-sample from a particular region of the United States. Specifically, we examined individuals' on-line music libraries to obtain behaviorally revealed preferences from each of the 50 states.

Our most recent work focuses on evaluating the costs and benefits of Internet research methods (Gosling et al., 2004, 2010 ), such as that afforded by Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk; Buhrmester et al., 2011)

Primary Interests:

  • Evolution and Genetics
  • Internet and Virtual Psychology
  • Person Perception
  • Personality, Individual Differences
  • Research Methods, Assessment

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Sam Gosling
Department of Psychology
1 University Station A8000
University of Texas
Austin, Texas 78712
United States of America

  • Phone: (512) 471-1628
  • Fax: (512) 471-5935

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