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What Clutter Does to Our Mind

Cleanliness and clutter affect our brain in two very different sorts of ways.

The first is in making our goals and interfaces more clear or harder to find. This effect will be the subject of the next post.

The second, and the subject of this post, is in physically changing the way our brain works.

The Science

Researchers randomly placed their participants in either a cluttered office space, or a clean and tidy one. After spending some time in that space, they asked their participants some questions. Here are the results: Participants who spent time in a tidy office, were more likely to choose and apple for a snack, over chocolate. Cluttered office participants tended to do the opposite.

Tidy office participants were more likely to donate to charity than cluttered office participants.

That being said, cluttered office goers tended to be more creative. They would be less conservative and tended to deviate more from the norm.

Just to be clear, participants did not choose which office they wanted to spend time in. The assignments were random. the time spent in the office, cluttered or tidy, physically changed participant's preferences. At least for that day.

The Practice

In behavioral design, we don't always get to choose the environment in which people interact with our products. Environments, however, are more than just the room in which the product is used.

Online, we may prefer a clean and simple interface for financial products. a bank might wish to promote conservative saving and spending emphasizing the tidiness of its interface.

An art gallery, on the other hand, physical or online, would do well to throw some stuff on the floor and forget to do the dishes for a couple of days.

A clean and tidy car will likely promote more responsible driving, while a cluttered fast food chain might prompt its customers to forget their diets for a little while. Design studios thrive in clutter, while banks thrive on tidiness.

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