Day’s Verse:
Wisdom is better than warheads,
But one hothead can ruin the good earth.

Ecclesiastes 9:18

This Dutch researcher did an interesting study that examined the influence of the environment on peoples’ behavior. Specifically, when garbage collectors went on strike at a train depot, he polled people at the station during the messy period. Then, after the strike was resolved and the place cleaned up, he polled people at the station again.

He found that a messy environment caused people to seek order elsewhere — namely, by subconsciously reinforcing internal stereotypes. Basically, if there’s disorder externally, people seek order internally by viewing life in more black and white terms. The researcher put it this way:

Physical disorder makes people create order in their minds by making them use very simple categories (all Blacks are X, all Democrats are Y etc). It is THE way of coping with chaos.

This has some interesting implications. He focused on how governments can reduce crime by keeping areas clean. But that makes me wonder: Could you raise more tolerant, open-minded kids by maintaining a neat home environment? What does an adult’s choice to be messy or not say about his or her inner workings? Does a workplace that’s neat and orderly encourage smoother cooperation between employees?

In any case, this study simply reinforces what we already knew, namely, that there’s value in keeping any environment clean.

One thought on “A Case for Physical Order

  1. Maybe it’s because my desk is about as visible as it’s been in years thanks to a recent cleaning, but my mind is able to see certain nuances and I remain unconvinced of the conclusion of this study (and especially its treatment in the article). Cleanliness may be its own reward, I suppose, but disorder in itself is hardly the *cause* of all those evils.

    The study itself is flawed because the disorder in question had a specific cause that itself would be polarizing – the strike.

    The article goes on to mention graffiti and litter; both of which are mainly a *result* of disenfranchisement and social tension, not their cause. And as to whether I’d keep a wallet I found in a run-down neighborhood or a well-to-do neighborhood… I’d imagine the rich neighborhood’s wallet would have more money in it and thus be a much more attractive target. 😉

    Generally, my feeling has been that the very laws that limit graffiti and litter (and placement of homeless shelters, section-8 housing, and even things like school-district boundaries) are themselves the *result* of us-vs-them thinking, and a sort of “cleaning” that I’m not totally sure I want to be a part of, even though I know I benefit from it.

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