What Your Messy Desk Says About Your Personality

If you can't see your desk for coffee cups, notepads and Post-its, you'd better keep reading.

Bad news if you have an overflowing in-tray and messy workspace -- your colleagues think you're neurotic.

And, just to pile on the insults, they also think you're uncaring.

So say University of Michigan researchers, anyway.

Psychologists from the university explored the degree of messiness in someone's workspace and how it affects perceptions of the owner’s personality.

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In three experiments, about 160 participants were randomly assigned to sit in a researcher’s office that was clean and uncluttered, or in another office that was either “somewhat” or “very” messy.

In the neat office, papers were neatly stacked on the desk, books and journals were all tidy and upright on the bookshelves, file drawers had typewritten labels, and all rubbish was in the bin.

The “somewhat” messy office (A) had books tilted over on the shelves, a textbook and papers lying on the floor, and a wall clock an hour off. The “very” messy office (B) appeared even dirtier, more disorganised and had increased clutter.

Those surveyed tried to guess the researcher’s personality based on the office’s appearance, and in each experiment, participants thought that the inhabitant of the messy office was less conscientious than whoever worked in the organised office.

Image: Getty

In further experiments, it was revealed that they also thought that the office B researcher was less agreeable and more neurotic than the office A researcher. In fact, the messier office got everyone thinking the owner possessed one or more negative personality traits.

Disturbing, right? Well here's something even more disturbing:

“Once trait information about a target 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,  said study co-author Sarah Dyszlewski, "possibly bringing out the very trait information that they expected to see from the target in the first place.”

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In other words, once someone gets an idea about your personality from the state of your office in their head, then that is how they treat you -- which can make you act in the way they thought you would.


So now we're off to clean our workspaces. Not that we're neurotic or anything.

No really. We're not. Or are we??

Feature image: Getty