How does messiness affect consumer preference for simplicity?

Jan 17, 2012

A clean desk might not be all it's cracked up to be. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, messiness can lead consumers toward clearer thinking—especially political conservatives.

"Business and government managers often promote 'clean desk' policies to avoid disorganized offices and messy desks, for the purpose of boosting work efficiency and productivity," write authors Jia (Elke) Liu (University of Groningen), Dirk Smeesters (Erasmus University), and Debra Trampe (University of Groningen). "This practice is based on the conventional wisdom that a disorganized and messy environment can clutter one's mind and complicate one's judgments. However, not all evidence supports this conventional link between a messy environment and a messy mind."

In a series of six studies, the authors found that individuals who were reminded of messiness via a language task, worked at disorganized desks, or shopped in a store they perceived as disorganized displayed tendencies toward simplicity in a number of ways. "They categorized products in a simpler manner, were willing to pay more for a t-shirt that depicts a simple-looking picture, and sought less variety in their choices."

The authors found that the messiness effect didn't affect liberals as much as conservatives because liberals were generally less concerned about being disorganized. "Specifically, conservatives, when confronted with a messy environment (compared to a clean environment), were willing to pay more for a t-shirt with a simple-looking picture. Liberals' willingness to pay for this shirt was not affected by messiness," the authors explain.

The authors' study shows that experiencing messiness decreases consumers' cognitive complexity and induces them to form simple representations of product information (heuristic information processing). "Messy desks may not be as detrimental as they appear to be, as applying heuristic approaches can rather boost work efficiency or enhance employees' creativity in problem solving," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Power can corrupt even the honest

More information: Jia (Elke) Liu, Dirk Smeesters, and Debra Trampe. "Effects of Messiness on Preferences for Simplicity." Journal of Consumer Research: June 2012 (published online October 5, 2011).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study shows disorder may cause an increase stereotyping

Apr 08, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A study performed by Dutch social scientists Diederik Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, suggests that people may resort to stereotyping to cope with ...

Recommended for you

Power can corrupt even the honest

15 hours ago

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust ...

Learning at 10 degrees north

16 hours ago

Secluded beaches, calypso music and the entertaining carnival are often what come to mind when thinking of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. But Dal Earth Sciences students might first consider Trinidad's ...

How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research

17 hours ago

Have you ever felt overloaded by information? Ever wondered how to make sense of claims and counter-claims about a topic? With so much information out there on many different issues, how is a person new to ...

Minorities energize US consumer market, according to report

17 hours ago

The buying power of minority groups in the U.S. has reached new heights and continues to outpace cumulative inflation, according to the latest Multicultural Economy Report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the ...

User comments : 0