This past weekend, New York Times reporter Gretchen Reynolds wrote an article titled “What a Messy Desk Says About You,” based on the findings of a University of Minnesota study published in Psychological Science about the effects different types of work environments have on creativity. The study, conducted by behavioral scientist Kathleen Vohs, found that people who are naturally inclined to create and work in messy environments are more creative than their counterparts.
Dr. Vohs came to her conclusion after conducting a series of experiments testing participants’ creativity and decision-making patterns in different work environments. She found that participants working in messy conditions were more creative and willing to try new things, while participants in clean, orderly environments stuck to traditional choices and were not as capable of thinking outside the box. The study is significant in that it’s one of the first of its kind to find “much virtue in disarray,” Reynolds said. It goes against the decades-old broken-windows theory, which claims that “even the slightest disorder and neglect can encourage nonchalance, poor discipline and nihilism.”
It’s not all bad news for the orderly people, though. Vohs found that neat people, or “people blessed with innate conscientiousness” as Reynolds put it, tend to make healthier lifestyle choices. Other studies have reported similar findings, and claim that people who find value in being neat and orderly tend to live longer.
I’d love to know which famous artists, musicians and performers were messy and which were neat freaks. I was interested in the study after looking at my desk (pictured below) and seeking some sort of validation.