This is what your messy desk says about you

What does your work desk look like? Is it clean and tidy, or covered in a pile of organised (or disorganised) mess? Either way, a new study says that it could be an indication of your personality.

If you’re the type to leave your desk in a complete state – we’re talking half-drunk mugs of tea, pages and pages of unnecessarily paper piled up and random keepsakes that that you just won’t clear out –  then we’re afraid we’ve got some bad news.

The research, conducted at the University of Michigan, suggests that people with messy desks at work tend to be seen as selfish, uncaring, and cranky. Harsh, we know – but while you may not agree, the results speak for themselves.

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The psychologists conducted the study by performing three experiments with 160 participants. Each participant was asked to sit in one of three offices: one that was clean and uncluttered, one that was ‘somewhat’ messy, and one that was ‘very’ messy.

All three offices were decorated in the same way, designed to belong to a male researcher. Each desk had personal belongs including a cup containing sweets, a baby photo, a baseball cap, and academic journals. However, the way they were placed differed. In the neat desk, everything was stacked up in a clean-cut organised manner and all rubbish was in the bin. In the ‘somewhat’ messy office books were leaning on shelves while textbooks were on the floor, and a clock showed the wrong time. And the ‘very’ messy office was, well, very messy, with rubbish, dirt and clutter everywhere.

The participants were then asked to guess the male researchers personality based on the different states of the office by rating him based on the big five: sociability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Not to anyone’s surprise, the majority of participants agreed that the man with the messiest office was the least conscientious, the least agreeable, and the most neurotic. Thus concluding the theory that those with untidy desks are seen as uncaring and unlikeable.

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‘When there are cues related to less cleanliness, order, organisation and more clutter in an owner’s primary territory, perceivers’ ascribe lower conscientiousness to the owner, whether that owner is a worker in the real world, a job-seeker, a student or a researcher at a university,’ said study leader Professor Terrence Horgan.

‘Once trait information becomes activated in perceivers’ minds, either consciously or unconsciously, that information can subsequently affect how they process information about, the types of questions they ask of, and how they behave toward the target, possibly bringing out the very trait information that they expected to see from the target in the first place,’ added co-author, Saran Dyszlewski.