18 November 2014

Walking boosts creative thinking

New research shows that walking boosts creative thinking. In a series of experiments, researchers from Stanford University in California compared levels of creativity in people while they walked with while they sat and found creative output went up by an average of 60% while walking.

Many people claim that they come up with their best ideas while walking. Steve Jobs, late co-founder of Apple, used to hold meetings while walking, and Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, has also been seen doing the same.

Now, a study by Dr. Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, may explain why. They report their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. They found that the act of walking itself does the trick - it does not matter whether the walk is indoors or outdoors, it has the same effect in boosting creative inspiration.

In one experiment, they found that compared with sitting down, walking indoors on a treadmill facing a blank wall or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses. Dr. Oppezzo says she thought "walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me." She says theirs appears to be the first study to look specifically at the effect of non-aerobic walking on simultaneously generating new ideas, and compare it with sitting.

The effect of walking appears to persist for a little while; even if people sat down shortly after a walk, their creative juices continued to flow, the researchers found. Creative thinking tested for non-aerobic walking versus sitting, indoors and outdoors To carry out their four experiments, Dr. Oppezzo and Prof. Schwartz recruited 176 college students and other adults, and had them complete tasks that researchers normally use to measure creative thinking. They placed the participants in various conditions, comparing non-aerobic walking to sitting, indoors and outdoors. When outdoors, for instance, the walkers would walk, and the sitters were pushed in wheelchairs around a pre-determined path on the Stanford campus.

The reason for pushing sitters around in wheelchairs in the outdoor parts of experiments was to give them the same visual movement as walking. The participants also underwent different combinations of walking and sitting. For example, there might be two consecutive walking sessions, or two consecutive seated sessions, or a walking session followed by a seated one. The sessions lasted from 5 to 16 minutes, depending on the tasks the participants were asked to complete.

Tests of divergent thinking In three of the experiments, the participants undertook tests of their divergent thinking creativity. Divergent thinking is where you generate ideas by thinking of lots of possible solutions.

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