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Messy Work Spaces Spur Creativity, While Tidy Environments Linked With Healthy Choices

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MESSY DESK
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Need a creativity boost? Maybe you should let the clutter in your workspace collect a bit.

A new study shows that while working in an orderly office environment promotes healthy choices and higher expectations, working in a messier setting provided a more innovative atmosphere and a willingness to try new things.

“Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries, and societies want more of: creativity,” study researcher Kathleen Vos, a psychological scientist and marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, included three experiments that tested to see how orderly and disorderly environments were linked with behavior.

In the first experiment, 34 Dutch students were randomly assigned to one of two groups; one group met in a disorderly room, while the other group sat in a more organized office space. The disorderly room was cluttered with paper and office supplies. Both rooms were the same size, had the same amount of exposure to sunlight and the same configuration.

All students were asked to spend 10 minutes filling out paperwork, and then were given the opportunity to offer a charitable donation. On their way out, they were also provided with the snack options of apples or chocolate.

Researchers found that 82 percent of people in the orderly room made a charitable donation, versus 47 percent of people in the disorderly room. People in the orderly room also tended to make the healthier snack choice -- the apple -- while those in the unorganized space were more likely to pick the chocolate.

For the second experiment, 48 American students were randomly assigned to a cluttered or organized room. The students in both rooms were asked to come up with a new use for ping-pong balls. Judges who were blinded to which rooms the students were in then rated the creativity of the suggestions. While both groups had the same number of ideas, the students who conceptualized uses in the cluttered room had higher ratings for interest and creativity than those working in the tidy room.

For the third experiment, 188 American adults were randomly assigned to a clean or messy room. They were asked to order a smoothie based on a selection of new or classic flavors. Those in the organized room were more likely to choose a smoothie from the selection with the “classic” label, while members in the messy environment were more likely to try one of the new flavors.

This isn't the first time messy desks have gotten a positive nod. Back in 2012, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that a cluttered workspace is actually good for your problem-solving abilities.

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