Formerly, the dominant notion is that the best way to carry out one’s life is to be clean and organized. However, scientists are starting to notice that there are some benefits to being messy. According to various studies, relatively messier people have shown to be more creative and forward thinking. For instance, this New York Times article explains a study where 48 people were randomly allocated to either an orderly or disheveled table space, and then asked generate ways that ping pong balls could be used aside from the game of ping pong. Their ideas were then rated on creativity. After the data was analyzed, the experiment discovered that the participants placed in messier rooms had higher creativity ratings, 28% more creative than the people in organized spaces to be statistically specific. The New York Times article also mentions that similar experiments have been replicated in various activities that would channel creativity, such as drawing and problem solving. In each undertaking tested, clear evidence that disorderly spaces may inspire more creative thinking was shown. However, a pitfall to this experiment is exactly how to quantify creativity. Creativity is subjective, so although the article calls the raters “independent judges” and considers their rating to be “done reliably” there is still some skepticism as to whether the result of the experiment would change if the set of raters were different. Also, the sample size of this experiment is relatively small, so I personally feel the need for a larger sample to make the study even more substantial.
The underlying question is, assuming this study is valid, is it better to think creatively than conventionally? Should we as individuals stop cleaning our desks and thinking spaces to encourage our brains to be more disorderly and innovative? This Business Insider article explores this paradox. For instance, they bring forth the timeline of completing a task, which requires more creative brainstorming in the beginning and gradually becomes more orderly as the individual organizes such ideas. Thus, this would indicate that a disorderly space would be more beneficial in the beginning stages, but tidiness would gradually become more advantageous. In addition, a bias of the study would be the industry in which the individual is working within. For instance, an artist might be more inclined to maintain disorder than an accountant due to the fact that an accountant’s profession requires more conventional and organized thinking. Finally, in my research I came across a red flag in terms of the science done on this question. Both articles mentioned previously AND this one from the Association for Psychological Science all pull their conclusion from the same study done at University of Minnesota. There are two explanations for this repetition: a lack of scientific curiosity or the file drawer dilemma. This study was only published in 2013, so maybe scientists have just recently came across the “messy desk” phenomena and haven’t done much research on the question yet. Subsequently, maybe they have done research that has been tucked away due to the fact that it has yielded traditional results in favor of orderly spaces. We discussed this bias of the “boring” findings as the as the file drawer problem in class, and this messy vs clean controversy could be a valid example. Overall, the findings are interesting, yet more prospective investigation is most definitely necessary before we frantically tidy or chaotically destroy our spaces. In my personal experimentation, I have favored having an organized desk when completing my work… how about you all?