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Clean or messy: What your workspace says about you

By: Roche Life Sciences

Posted: | Career & Lifestyle


For many with a clean workspace, they report that it contributes to relaxation, giving them the uncluttered environment in which to clear their thoughts. Those who self-report messy workplaces find their own clarity in the clutter, finding their own sense of order where others see only chaos.

A survey by the software firm Marketo reports that 57% of people judge their coworkers by their workspaces. A whopping 90% believe that clutter has a negative impact on work, with 77% believing that it negatively affects productivity.

These perceptions aren’t new. That’s why Kathleen Vohs, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and psychological scientist, along with her fellow researchers at the University of Minnesota, conducted research into the connection between cleanliness of the workspace and human behavior.

Vohs and her team predicted that tidier people would be more likely to uphold societal standards, while messier people would be more likely to upend conventional ideas. To test the hypothesis, the researches set up two rooms in the laboratory. One was neat and orderly, while the other was a mess of papers and books. Volunteer participants were randomly assigned to one of the two rooms, and given a series of tasks to perform.

Clean and clear

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, indicated that the “clean room” environment encouraged people to choose “good” behavior, reflecting societal expectations. Compared with their messy room counterparts, the clean room participants were more generous, and made better decisions about food. This group donated more of their own money to charity and were more likely to choose an apple over a candy bar.

Magic in the mess

Some of our most famous creative minds were notoriously messy. Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and Steve Jobs all had workspaces that, from an outsider’s perspective, appeared chaotic and disorganized.


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