There are endless ways to categorize people: Are you a Stone or a Beatle? A Coke-drinker or a Pepsi-drinker? Chaos Muppet or Order Muppet? But perhaps no distinction is more polarizing than Neat versus Messy. It's the line that divided Felix and Oscar, Bert and Ernie, and an untold number of less renowned households.
By default, Team Neat gets the moral high ground: An orderly home or office provokes admiration, while a space littered with piles of laundry or stacks of paper is a source of shame. Recently, though, education research has offered a few victories for messy people. This summer, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that students in disorderly rooms "exhibited more creativity" than those who were in neat and tidy ones. The study confirmed a popular quote attributed to the most famous member of Team Messy, Albert Einstein: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
Another victory for the messy comes now from a recent study published in Developmental Science: It appears the benefits of messiness start at a young age. "Highchair Philosophers: The Impact of Seating Context-Development Exploration on Children's Naming Biases" found that toddlers were more likely to learn the names of foods when they played with them. Researchers Lynn K. Perry, Larissa K. Samuelson, and Joanna B. Burdinie gave 72 16-month-old children a variety of non-solid foods and told them what they were each named. A minute later, the researchers gave the toddlers the foods again. The children who touched, squeezed, and threw the foods—in other words, the kids who got messy—were more likely to identify them correctly.