It's long been thought that when you need a creative boost, you should step out and take a walk. Now, research published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology shows that it works.
Picture: Mike Baird/Flickr
Researchers from Stanford did several small-scale studies that looked at how walking may increase creativity. Basically, they made research subjects take creativity tests, then had them walk around and take a creativity test again. The New York Times breaks down the results:
For almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked. Most were able to generate about 60 per cent more uses for an object, and the ideas were both "novel and appropriate..."
...Walking markedly improved people's ability to generate creative ideas, even when they sat down after the walk. In that case, the volunteers who had walked produced significantly more and subjectively better ideas than in their pre-exercise testing period...
Finally, to examine another real-world implication of walking and creativity, Dr. Oppezzo moved portions of the experiment outdoors. "Most people would probably guess that walking outside should be much better for creativity" than pacing inside a drab office. But surprisingly, her study undermined that assumption. When volunteers strolled Stanford's pleasant, leafy campus for about eight minutes, they generated more creative ideas than when they sat either inside or outside for the same length of time. But they were not noticeably more creative as a result of their plein-air walk than when they subsequently walked on an indoor treadmill, facing a blank wall.
The effect of a walk was brief but substantial nonetheless. That said, it's still not clear why walking helps with creativity. Researchers suggest it could be related to a boost in mood, or simply because walking diverts the brains energy long enough for it to wander. It's also worth noting that since the tests were done on college students they're already primed for creative thinking in their day-to-day lives. Either way, a walk certainly doesn't do any harm and if you're feeling creatively stifled, it's a good excuse to get some exercise.
Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk? [The New York Times Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking [The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, Cognition]