Does Your Bedroom Match Your Personality?
How personality, emotion, and design shape your happiness.
Posted February 10, 2020 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
Americans spend about 93 percent of their time indoors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that estimate is split between indoor activities (87 percent) and automobiles (6 percent). This means we are immersed in human-design most of the time. These physical spaces provide the backdrop for all meaningful activity. Here are four exciting research findings about how we create and interact with our physical world.
1. Personality in the Bedroom
Bedrooms and offices are ideally suited for studying the projection of personality on physical spaces. If people do indeed select and shape their physical spaces to reflect who they are, then claims of identity should be apparent through in-person visual inspection. Can we predict the personality traits of a room's occupant simply from a quick inspection of a bedroom or office? A group of researchers explored this question and found, through a combination of self- or peer-reports and observer-reports, that we use visual cues—often conveying sex and race stereotypes—with moderate accuracy when forming impressions of occupants.
Agreement between observers varied, with Five-Factor Model (FFM) dimensions openness, conscientiousness, and extraversion showing the strongest consensus, followed by agreeableness and emotional stability. Accuracy was highest for openness and lowest for agreeableness—a pattern that was remarkably similar for bedrooms and offices. In other words, the raters’ room inspections revealed more information about occupant openness than any other FFM dimension. This effect was even more pronounced in bedroom settings compared to offices. Agreeableness was the most challenging dimension of personality to detect from visual exploration of the target areas.
Another study asked participants to indicate the ambiance they would like to evoke in rooms of their homes along six broad dimensions—restoration, kinship, storage, stimulation, intimacy, and productivity. In addition to reporting mean differences in these six dimensions across room categories, the authors showed how a number of existing research areas in psychology might be enriched by contextualizing them within the home. Among them are romantic relationships, emotion regulation, identity, and development.
2. We Create Spaces That Reflect Our Preferences
There is nothing that we do—psychologically, emotionally, and behaviorally—that occurs outside the context of physical space. Human involvement with the physical world, however, is not limited to laptop computers, airplane cockpits, and thermoplastic elastomer office chairs. Additionally, we wear logos of teams we support, put bumper stickers on cars, visit tattoo parlors for personalized body emblems, and carefully position artwork in our living spaces. These are all examples of identity claims, or ways of telling others who we are. Individual differences in personality are often expressed in the design and decoration of ourselves and our living spaces. Out of the millions of pictures you could hang in that spot, why did you select that one?
3. Picking Spaces Based on Emotional Needs
We already know a good deal about how physical spaces affect mood and activity. For example, common places like coffee shops and dorm rooms influence emotions. As a result, we often choose particular places based on the mood we are in, or the mood we would like to achieve. Someone who is melancholy might have a favorite retreat where they can think comfortably. Or the desire to finish a writing project might lead a person to seek out a special nook in the law library on campus.
4. Find a Recharging Station
A restorative niche is a physical place where we can “regain our first natures and indulge our biogenic selves." Acting out of character—for example performing like an extrovert when you are biogenically (i.e., naturally) introverted—imposes physiological costs. It is energetically demanding to be agreeable when you are normally disagreeable or to act like you are open to new experiences and flexible when in reality you are structured and remarkably closed-minded. A restorative niche functions to reduce those costs and gives us the freedom to be ourselves in a comfortable environment that matches our personality.
If the concept of restorative niche is based on dimensions of personality, it follows that there should be many differences between individuals in preferences for physical spaces. Some places increase arousal and anxiety, while others are calming and curative. Although homes play an essential role in our lives and are theoretically tied to social, emotional, and cognitive processes, very little empirical research has addressed the issue in a real-world setting. For a detailed model describing how people can impact the environment around them and, in turn, how physical environments can serve as archives of individual expression, look here.
These studies spotlight the psychological role that physical space plays in ordinary life, pointing to an interaction between places and emotions that help shape identity and well-being. Conversely, environments can lead to the erosion of mental health, especially in situations where long periods of social and physical isolation are imposed on an individual. Scholars are now beginning to explore a new kind of urbanism that encourages policymakers and urban practitioners to build mental health findings into their projects. For example, a study that draws upon sociology and criminal justice research shows that the psychological consequences of modern urban design often parallel the effects found within solitary confinement in prisons.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1989). Report to Congress on indoor air quality: Volume 2. EPA/400/1-89/001C. Washington, DC.
Ott, W. R. (1989). Human activity patterns: a review of the literature for estimating time spent indoors, outdoors, and in transit In: Proceedings of the Research Planning Conference on Human Activity Patterns, EPA/600/4-89/004. EPA National Exposure Research Laboratory, Las Vegas, NV, 1989, pp. 3-1 to 3-38
Gosling, S. D., Ko, S. J., Mannarelli, T., & Morris, M. E. (2002). A room with a cue: Personality judgments based on offices and bedrooms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(3), 379-398.
Graham, L. T., Gosling, S. D., & Travis, C. K. (2015). The Psychology of Home Environments: A Call for Research on Residential Space. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(3), 346–356. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691615576761
Little, B. R. (2014). Me, myself, and us: The science of personality and the art of well-being. New York: PublicAffairs.
Bennett, K., Gualtieri, T., & Kazmierczyk, B. (2018). Undoing solitary urban design: A review of risk factors and mental health outcomes associated with living in social isolation. Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health, 4:7.