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What the state of your desk says about you

lifestyle Updated: Aug 08, 2013 19:51 IST


Is your desk prim and proper, with folders and papers neatly aligned and pens never far from their designated storage area? Or does it look more like an office supply store threw up all over it? Here’s what psychologists think the state of your desk says about you.

After simulating different working conditions in which participants filled out questionnaires and were scrutinized for their behavior, researchers from the University of Minnesota concluded that those who work at clean and tidy desks tend to conform to convention, eat healthy and are more generous compared to counterparts who toil at away at messy desks.

But if people who work at clean desks tend to be conformist, that means workspaces that are cluttered with randomly strewn papers and office supplies also promote creative thinking and stimulate new ideas, researchers said.

For their study, published in Psychological Science and released this week, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire in both an orderly office and a cluttered one.

They were also invited to donate to charity and take either an apple or chocolate on their way out. What researchers found was that those who completed the task in a clean room made more generous donations and were more likely to choose the healthy snack over the chocolate, compared to those who filled out the forms in the messy environment.

But when researchers asked groups to brainstorm new uses for ping pong balls, ideas generated out of the messy room were rated as more interesting and creative compared to those that came out of the orderly workspace, the study noted.

"Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries, and societies want more of: creativity," said lead author Kathleen Vohs.

Similarly, when given a choice between a new product and an established one, those in the messy room were more inclined to take their chance on the new product, again signaling that disorderly environments can help release people from conventionality.

"Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights," Vohs said. "Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe."

In defense of messy people, some of the most creative and brilliant minds also happen to be famously messy, including Sigmund Freud, Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein, who once said “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Apartment Therapy also provides a glimpse into the workspaces of famous people at