A clean room just doesn’t prevent an invasion of ants and a sprained ankle. It also might keep you from being a racist.
According to a new study, chaotic spaces spur stereotyping.
Led by Dutch researcher Siegwart Lindenberg, researchers conducted multiple experiments, attempting to connect disorder to stereotyping. In one experiment, volunteers were asked to fill out a survey at a train station with another person sitting nearby. Half were at a clean train station, and half were at a dirty station. At the dirty station, participants sat further away from a white person than a black person while completing the survey. They also chose more stereotypical answers.
In a second study, participants viewed pictures of messy or organized bookcases and rooms, or neutral images. Afterward, the researchers questioned the participants on their need for order and gave them the survey on stereotypes. Those who viewed the disordered photos had a higher need for order, and they stereotyped more than those who viewed the organized or neutral photos.
Assuming that a need for order is what caused the stereotyping, the researches administered one last survey. Participants looked at photos of ordered and disordered shapes. One group was given the stereotype survey, while the other group was given an unrelated task. Those who completed the survey showed less of a need for order, presumably because the stereotyping of the survey gave them the order that they needed.
In essence, stereotyping is a harmless process. It’s an innate way for humans to categorize the frenzied world around them. But when stereotyping leads to discriminatory thoughts and actions, that’s when it causes a problem.
Interestingly, half of Salon’s “Most Segregated Urban Areas in America” are also included in Travel + Leisure’s top 10 dirtiest cities in America: St. Louis, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York City.
According to Lindenberg, if we clean up, we might actually be able to end some of this discrimination:
One way to fight unwanted stereotyping and discrimination is to diagnose environmental disorder early and to intervene immediately. Signs of disorder such as broken windows, graffiti, and scattered litter will not only increase antisocial behavior, they will also automatically lead to stereotyping and discrimination.