Uncategorized — December 3, 2008 at 6:43 pm

The Argument for Keeping Things Tidy


This is very interesting study about the effect of disorderliness on people’s behavior. (H/T Andrew Sullivan).

The gist of the study outlined in the article is that a messy/trashy/disorderly environment encourages negative behaviors. Here are two examples:

His group’s first study was conducted in an alley that is frequently used to park bicycles. As in all of their experiments, the researchers created two conditions: one of order and the other of disorder. In the former, the walls of the alley were freshly painted; in the latter, they were tagged with graffiti (but not elaborately, to avoid the perception that it might be art). In both states a large sign prohibiting graffiti was put up, so that it would not be missed by anyone who came to collect a bicycle. All the bikes then had a flyer promoting a non-existent sports shop attached to their handlebars. This needed to be removed before a bicycle could be ridden.

When owners returned, their behaviour was secretly observed. There were no rubbish bins in the alley, so a cyclist had three choices. He could take the flyer with him, hang it on another bicycle (which the researchers counted as littering) or throw it to the floor. When the alley contained graffiti, 69% of the riders littered compared with 33% when the walls were clean.

In other words, people were more likely to be litterers if there was already litter or graffiti present than if the area was tidy.

Here’s another one:

The most dramatic result, though, was the one that showed a doubling in the number of people who were prepared to steal in a condition of disorder. In this case an envelope with a €5 ($6) note inside (and the note clearly visible through the address window) was left sticking out of a post box. In a condition of order, 13% of those passing took the envelope (instead of leaving it or pushing it into the box). But if the post box was covered in graffiti, 27% did. Even if the post box had no graffiti on it, but the area around it was littered with paper, orange peel, cigarette butts and empty cans, 25% still took the envelope.

So, the take-home message is, if you want people to act right, keep things tidy. I guess this could include your workplace, your yard, where you park your car or any of the other environments where you or your belongings spend significant amounts of time.


I’m just sayin’…