The secret to creativity is… a messy desk?!
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Anyone whose desk resembles a war zone can proudly cite a new scientific study that suggests a messy workspace may actually help people think more creatively and stimulate new ideas.
Psychological Scientist Professor Kathleen Vohs and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, mapped the behavior of people working on messy and clean desks with a series of experiments.
In the first experiment, participants were asked to fill out questionnaires in an office. Some completed the task in a clean and orderly office, while others did so in an unkempt, cluttered space.
Afterwards, they had the opportunity to donate to charity and were allowed to take a snack of chocolate or an apple on their way out.
Being in a clean room resulted in people donating more of their own money to charity. They were also more likely to choose the apple over the candy bar.
In another experiment, participants were asked to come up with new uses for ping-pong balls.
Overall, the 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 creative when evaluated by impartial judges.
"Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries and societies want more of – creativity,” Vohs said. "Previous research has found that a clean setting leads people to do good things, such as not engaging in crime, litter and showing more generosity. We found, however, that you can get really valuable outcomes from being in a messy setting."
The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.