Your messy house may be making you fat, but it might also be making you more creative.

By Seriously Science | September 25, 2013 12:35 am

Photo: flickr/Madzia Bryll

The three experiments presented in this paper bring up some really interesting ideas. Each involved exposing participants to tidy or messy environments (for examples, see Fig. 2 below). In the first experiment, the participants in the tidy room chose healthier snacks and gave more to charity than those stuck in a messy room. However, if you are a slob, don’t despair: in the second experiment, the scientists tested whether chaotic environments promote innovation.  And yes, the participants in the untidy rooms were better at coming up with “creative” uses for ping pong balls (sadly this list is not a supplemental table). And finally, when exposed to a messy room, people were much more likely to choose nutritional supplements labeled as “New!”, rather than “Classic!” to add to their smoothies, suggesting that the  environment might encourage interest in novelty. So, the next time your boss or roommate is bugging you to clean up your act, you can give them this paper to read and tell them that their tidiness is keeping them boring.

Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity.

“Order and disorder are prevalent in both nature and culture, which suggests that each environ confers advantages for different outcomes. Three experiments tested the novel hypotheses that orderly environments lead people toward tradition and convention, whereas disorderly environments encourage breaking with tradition and convention-and that both settings can alter preferences, choice, and behavior. Experiment 1 showed that relative to participants in a disorderly room, participants in an orderly room chose healthier snacks and donated more money. Experiment 2 showed that participants in a disorderly room were more creative than participants in an orderly room. Experiment 3 showed a predicted crossover effect: Participants in an orderly room preferred an option labeled as classic, but those in a disorderly room preferred an option labeled as new. Whereas prior research on physical settings has shown that orderly settings encourage better behavior than disorderly ones, the current research tells a nuanced story of how different environments suit different outcomes.”

Bonus quote:

“Participants completed tasks in a room arranged to be either orderly or disorderly (Fig. 2). To measure creativity, we adapted the Alternative Uses Task (Guilford, 1967). Participants imagined that a company wanted to create new uses for the ping-pong balls that it manufactured. They were instructed to list up to 10 new uses for ping-pong balls.

Fig. 2. The rooms used in the orderly (left) and disorderly (right) conditions of Experiment 2.

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  • agnes debinski

    I can´t agree with you more (than I already do), but I would like to suggest, that it also works the other way around: If somebody is a not really exciting and not overly creative and perhaps even neurotic person who suffers from a general lack of tolerance (also in regard to innovations) – being far from open-minded , then this kind of individual would normally yearn for an extremely tidy environment.

  • Agnes Debinski

    I believe it is inappropriate to use the word “fat” in the headline, but other than that this article is certainly worth reading.

  • Agnes D.

    I have heard that claim before. People with messy tendencies claim to be more creative. Are all messy people more creative than all tidy people though? Besides, people might be clean and relatively orderly (as in not messy but not really tidy either – just quite tidy) and yet also creative…But I do understand your point. I wouldn´t presume pedantitic people are creative myself either. I suppose that´s what you meant and I still do agree with it, while I still find it not OK to use the word “fat” although you probably mean “severly overweight”. But that´s just my point of view.


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