by Fiona Macrae

Creatively chaotic

Studies shows messy desks improve creativity

Creatively chaotic
Untidy offices improves creativity

We’ve all heard the saying “tidy desk, tidy mind” but a messy desk may also be good for the brain as scientists have shown people working in a messy office come up with more imaginative ideas.

But in a boost for the tidy, the same study linked neatness with generosity and healthy eating.

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

And this could explain why many ultra high-achievers – including, it is believed, Einstein – liked to be surrounded by clutter, they say.

Two offices were used for the experiment, with the same view, furniture and amount of sunlight. One was free of clutter; the other had computer equipment and paperwork scattered around. Volunteers sat in one of the two rooms to complete a questionnaire, distracting them from the real purpose of the experiment.

They were also offered the chance to give money to a charity and eat an apple or chocolate. Those in the tidy office were more likely to donate, and chose the apple over the chocolate.

In a test of creativity, the two groups sat either in a spartan room or surrounded by mess as they thought up ten uses for a table tennis ball.

Both had the same number of ideas, but those from the untidy office were more interesting and creative, the journal Psychological Science reports.

Researcher Kathleen Vohs, a psychological scientist, said: “Being in a messy room led to something firms, industries and societies want more of: creativity.”

Whether the environment was tidy or unkempt made a “whopping difference” in behaviour.

And Professor Vohs said people might be best to fill in complicated financial forms in tidy surroundings. But when thinking of an unusual present, a touch of clutter might aid imagination. 

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