Cluttered desks promote creative thinking: study

A tidy desk might resemble a tidy mind, as the saying goes, but working amongst clutter helps you think more creatively, according to a new study.

Messy desk lovers now have science as an excuse for their office jumble as the research shows they can dream up more imaginative ideas.

The University of Minnesota researchers believe disorder inspires the mind to break free of convention.

But the neat freaks have also been given a boost, with the same study saying tidiness promotes healthy eating, generosity, and conventionality.

"Prior work has found that a clean setting leads people to do good things: Not engage in crime, not litter, and show more generosity," psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs said in the study published in the journal Psychological Science.

"We found, however, that you can get really valuable outcomes from being in a messy setting."

In one experiment, office workers were asked to fill out some questionnaires.

Some completed the task in a clean and orderly office, while others did so in an unkempt one with papers strewn about and cluttered office supplies.

Afterward, the participants were presented with the opportunity to donate to a charity, and they were allowed to take a snack of chocolate or an apple on their way out.

Those in the tidy office were more likely to donate, and chose the apple over the chocolate.

But in another experiment, the messy desk brigade came out of top.

Participants were asked to come up with new uses for ping pong balls.

Overall, participants in the messy room generated the same number of ideas for new uses as their clean-room counterparts.

But their ideas were rated as more interesting and more creative when evaluated by impartial judges.

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

"Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights."

Whether the environment was tidy or unkempt made a "whopping difference" in behaviour, the study found.

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