NWReporter logo
Serving More Than 32,000 Real Estate Professionals in the

October 2013

Creative thinkers tend to occupy messy desks

Study shows neatniks also have virtues

NWREporter, October 2013

Messy desks may prompt creativity and innovation, while tidy environments tend to be occupied by workers who follow rules and avoid risks. Neatiks also exhibit more generosity and healthier food choices than their more clutter-prone colleagues, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.

Lead researcher Kathleen Vohs, a consumer psychologist and professor of marketing at the University Of Minnesota Carlson School Of Management said experiments were conducted to compare behavioral differences of orderly and disorderly work environments. In particular, researchers wanted to determine if there were any positive effects of working amid cluttered surroundings.

Vohs are her fellow colleagues concluded workers at neat, orderly desks were inclined to follow rules and not take risks. "When people are in a tidy room, they seem to perform behaviors and make decisions that go along with what's expected," Vohs said.

Conversely, people in messy environments are more creative, Vohs concluded. Asked to solve an inventory problem at a hypothetical factory, people at messy desks came up with more creative solutions. "Cluttered minds can lead to all kinds of pathways and solutions. I think cluttered minds actually do a pretty good job some days," she commented.

Researchers also reported finding distinct differences when participants were given a choice between a new product and an established one. Participants in a tidy room preferred the established product, while those in the messy room favored the novel one - a signal that being in a disorderly environment stimulates a release from conventionality.
"Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights," Vohs concludes. "Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe."

Researchers are conducting ongoing studies to investigate whether the "tidy versus messy" effects are transferable to a virtual environment: the Internet. Preliminary findings suggest the tidiness of a webpage predicts the same kind of behaviors.

Vohs' research findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.