Does walking make us more creative?

A blank page... The worst fear of a writer or a student is when they can't find the ideas or the inspiration needed to start their work, and staring at a blank page does nothing to improve the situation. On the contrary, a blank page is likely to frustrate and provoke them even further (in this type of stand-off, the blank page always wins). However, a five minute stroll could be the answer to the dreaded writer's block.

After hearing about the advantages of sports and exercise for our intellectual capacity, walking has now come into the spotlight in particular for its creative benefits. And it's not even necessary to walk energetically, a leisurely stroll or aimless wandering are just as beneficial. Through the University of Stanford, a team led by Marily Oppezo has proved that walking is useful to the brain. The results of their research have led to a publication on the same subject in The Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The study involved 176 volunteers, two creative thought evaluation tests, and four experiments. The first test was Guilford's alternate uses test, also known as GAU, where participants found alternative uses for a common object, for example a shirt button could be used as a door handle for a doll's house, or a brick could become a diving aid. The second test was a compound remote associates test or CRA, in which participants tried to find a common factor between three seemingly distinct words. For example "cottage/Swiss/cake" for which the correct answer would be cheese, or for the words "room/bubble/salts" the linking word would be bath.

The researchers used these two tests in four different situations. In the first experiment, participants did both tests using different words, first while sitting, and then while walking on a treadmill. In both cases the participants were facing a blank wall. For the Guilford test, 81% of participants found that they were more creative while walking. However, only 23% had increased scores for the remote associates test.

Then participants were separated into three groups: some who sat and then walked, some who walked and then sat, and those who sat for the two sets. As before, the walking led to increased creativity, not only for participants who had sat and then walked, but also for those who had walked and then sat, showing that there was increased creativity for a period of time after walking.

In the third experiment, the researchers generalized the prior effects to outdoor walking, along a predetermined path. And finally, they tried to disassociate the effect of walking from the effect of being outside, which also has a stimulating effect. There were four groups in this configuration: those who stayed inside sitting down, those who walked a treadmill inside, those who walked outside, and those who were pushed in a wheelchair outside. Once again, the walkers had the best scores, and walking outside was by far the most stimulating.

According to Oppezo, "While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity," To conclude: "Incorporating physical activity into our lives is not only beneficial for our hearts but our brains as well. This research suggests an easy and productive way to weave it into certain work activities."
Source: Oppezzo M., Schwartz D.L. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. J. Exp. Psychol. Learn Mem .Cogn. 2014 Jul;40(4):1142-52. doi: 10.1037/a0036577. Epub 2014 Apr 21.

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