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What Does Your Desk Say About You?


Mom always told us to clean up after ourselves, make sure your bed was made and your room was clean. Organize your school work and keep things tidy. All our lives people try to teach us and encourage us to be neat, organized and orderly. Sometimes this message sticks and other times it doesn’t. Ever wonder why? Did you ever think that your desk communicated to others how the inner working of your mind?

A recent study published in Psychological Science has suggested that while working at a clean desk encourages people to make socially responsible choices, working at a messy desk appear to support creative thinking. Those who worked at a neat desk were found to be more likely to donate to charities and choose an apple over a candy bar. However, when tasked with developing creative new ideas, those who worked in messy environments produced significantly more creative ideas.

The study does not explore why or how these behaviors develop. Speculation could lead down many directions; perhaps people who naturally think within the box are more likely to follow the social expectations around them. They may find that giving to charity and eating healthy are what society expects from them. Following the rules is not a bad thing, in fact living within society demands that certain expectations be met in exchange for being included in a group. Individuals who naturally think outside the box are not doomed to be social outcasts, but perhaps their instinctual need to break from conformity is the same need that helps them develop more creative ideas.

Although this study does not speculate about the why behind the behaviors, it bring to light a discussion about behavioral development and how our personalities may influence so much of our lives including mundane activities like organizing our desks. Perhaps parents should allow their children to sleep in messy rooms, allowing the lack of structure to permeate into their dreams, creating novel and exciting ideas for the future. Perhaps the well-established parental habit of teaching our children organization skills has survived this long because preparing our children to be successful in the society in which they live has proven to a valuable trait. The topic continues to be open for debate, projecting speculation further down the rabbit hole.

What Does Your Desk Say About You?

Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D.

Dr. Brennan attended Rutgers University, and graduated with a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology. She also completed a Master of Arts in Psychology at Pace University. Upon completion, she began a doctorate program at Argosy University completing a Master's of Arts and Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Currently, she is an adjunct instructor for a community college, co-founder of the non-profit organization Little Hands International, and developing her own psychology clinic. Trained in the Practitioner-Scholar model, Dr. Brennan works with clients using empirically supported techniques such as CBT, ACT, and BFST. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders.

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APA Reference
Brennan, M. (2014). What Does Your Desk Say About You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Aug 2014
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