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Why spouses argue about whether a chore needs to be done

Updated: Jan 9

Recent research out of the University of Cambridge suggests that affordance theory can partly explain why men and women can walk into the same kitchen and see two different things; he doesn’t see a dirty kitchen, and she does.

An affordance is “an action possibility formed by the relationship between an agent and its environment. For any combination of agent or environment, any given affordance either exists or does not exist. There is no middle ground. The most inclusive definition of affordances considers only the physical possibility of an action occurring.”

In plain language, the authors argue that through societal norms women are more likely to see crumbs on the counter and believe the kitchen is not clean, and feel it needs to be cleaned right now. Whereas men don’t see the crumbs.

Perceiving an affordance can trigger neural processes preparing you for physical action. It often takes mental effort not to act on an affordance. Perhaps this is why your wife doesn’t sit down until everything is sparkling in the kitchen.

The authors stress that this is not an excuse for men, but rather men should make a conscious effort to resist gendered norms by improving their sensitivity to domestic task affordances and then make a conscious effort to in idle time to clean.

The example provided is that “A man might adopt a resolution to sweep for crumbs every time he waits for the kettle to boil.”

The authors go on to say that their focus has been on physical actions such as wiping, but gendered affordance perceptions could also apply to mental actions such as scheduling and remembering – the mental load of managing a home.

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“Men May Not 'Perceive' Domestic Tasks as Needing Doing in the Same Way as Women, Philosophers Argue.” University of Cambridge Research, University of Cambridge, 22 Dec. 2022,


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