Creativity: it’s a walk in the park

Harnessing creativity starts outside

Insights from the research center

Next time you’re stuck on a thorny problem, walk it out. Researchers from Stanford University found that people unanimously scored higher on a creative thinking test when they did it walking versus sitting down. A leisurely stroll is just the break we need to reset rigid thinking and get those creative juices flowing.

Insight in a nutshell

  • Both indoors and out, walking boosts creativity
  • In one experiment, 100% of participants were more creative when walking, showing it works for everyone
  • Walking among trees can improve mental performance by up to 20%

The experiment

In 2014, psychologists Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz compared what happens to a person’s level of creativity levels when they are sitting down to when they are walking. They used a measure called ‘Guilford’s alternate uses (GAU) test’ to gauge levels of creative divergent thinking – i.e. originality, flexibility and originality of thought.

In the test, people are shown the name of well-known object (such as a newspaper), along with a statement of its ordinary use. They are then asked to list as many as six other (uncommon) uses for the object in the time allowed. Across three studies, improvements in creativity were seen in 81%, 88% and 100% of participants respectively.

Interestingly, it made a difference ‘how’ people walked. It was important that participants walked at their natural pace. The researchers explained part of the increase in creativity as being down to engaging in the comfortable task of strolling leisurely.

What could be more natural?

A 2008 study by Berman, Jonides and Kaplan reported an improvement of 20% in conscious thought performance when participants took a walk outside in natural environments. This benefit did not occur in urban settings.

The authors explained this as the natural setting having a restorative effect, giving our brains pause for thought. In the same way, studies of mindfulness and emotional regulation show that taking a break and simply ‘being’ will help us get a grip on our feelings and promote a state of fresh resilience.

How to use this insight

Once again, psychology confirms for us things we already know intuitively. Of course we feel refreshed after a stroll in the park, and when we stop with all the mental rehearsal and cognitive fretting – just letting ourselves ‘be’ for a short while.

We should use these insights in our instructional design, recommending moments of calm reflection among all the high energy collaboration and challenge. And, of course, we should use them ourselves.

Want to learn more?
Walking and memorizing