Taking “home is where the heart is” to another level, a study has found that a person’s living space can reveal their personality traits and moods. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin found that certain characteristics of someone’s personality could be reflected in room décor. The researchers think that applying these findings could allow older adults to lead happier lives—especially older adults who may have physical or cognitive impairments (i.e., functional limitations) that led them to be transferred from their home into a long-term care community.
This study comprised 286 people aged 65 and better who completed baseline interviews in their home. The interviews assessed their social network, physical health, and demographic characteristics. Participants also provided researchers with photographs of their living space, and then completed a self-report instrument personality assessment during the next 5-6 days.
Baseline and personality measures were analyzed. The photos were also analyzed, and coded for newness, comfort, and cheerfulness of the room (based on 19 features of décor) as well as physical adaptations to aid with functional limitations. The researchers found that functional limitations were associated with greater clutter and less brightness. Personality traits such as extraversion were associated with newness and cheerfulness, while personality traits such as conscientiousness were associated with newness and comfort. Surprisingly, clutter was associated with fewer depressive symptoms for residents with functional limitation; researchers believe this is because the residents are trying to exert control on their environment, and that agency results in positive well-being.
Researchers believe the practical implication of this study is that older adults with functional limitations would benefit from keeping up with the living space (e.g., repairs, cleaning). If undertaken by long-term care staff, it is important these changes be done in collaboration with the older adult. Allowing older adults to take charge of their room décor, whether at home or in long-term care, will allow for expression of individual identity and improve their well-being.
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Fingerman, KL, Kim, YK, Zhang, S, Ng, YT, & Birditt, KS. Late Life in the Living Room: Room Décor, Functional Limitations, and Personality. The Gerontologist. 2021.