Researchers insist they can tell someone’s politlcal affiliation by looking at the condition of their offices and bedrooms. Messy? You’re a lefty. A neatnik? Welcome to the Right.
These room cues are “behavioral residue,” says Gosling, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. The idea is that distinct cognitive inclinations of liberals towards ambiguity and intellectualism, and conservatives toward order, “drive the way one leads one’s life and displays one’s life in their living and work spaces,” says Gosling’s co-author Dana Carney, an assistant professor of management at Columbia University’s Business School in New York City.
Those cognitive styles turn up in a personality test called the Big Five, which assesses people for openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism; only the first two have been strongly linked to political tendencies, says New York University (N.Y.U.) social psychologist John Jost, another author on the study.
“It’s pleasurable for liberals to think more. They gravitate toward art, to things that are not as concrete,” says Carney. “Conservatives have a need for order, for there not to be ambiguity. There you see that expressed by being more orderly, having more cleaning supplies, needing to have everything lined up and organized so that one feels one’s environment is predictable and therefore safe.”
This study simplifies its results. First, stick with the opening paragraph: liberals have messy lives and offices, conservatives value order first. These are small-case “liberal” and “conservative” definitions here.
There is no scientific correlation between “mess” and “thinking more.” Like the drama department and creative writing departments in your high school, those who claim to “think more” may not be thinking at all, but churning out iterations and recombinations of trendy ideas. Is that “thinking”?
The basic outlook of conservatives is that order and principle should dominate over the chaotic animal; the basic outlook of liberals is that the individual should do whatever he or she wants, and consequences can be managed with political control.
For the record, I think this study is basically accurate but shouldn’t be interpreted in reverse (this person’s office is messy, therefore they are a liberal) because some of the most fanatical conservatives I know have messy offices, and my favorite liberal has a clean office with cleaning supplies (and a can of pepper spray).