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Walking increases creative thinking

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(NaturalNews) People perform more creatively when walking, according to a study conducted by researchers from Stanford University and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

The findings -- which found as much as a 60 percent increase in ability to perform creative tasks while walking -- support anecdotal comments from many creative people who claim that they get their best ideas while walking. Some corporate executives have even been known to hold meetings while walking, including Steve Jobs (the late co-founder of Apple) and Mark Zuckerberg (co-founder of Facebook).

"This study is another justification for integrating bouts of physical activity into the day, whether it's recess at school or turning a meeting at work into a walking one," researcher Dr. Marily Oppezzo said. "We'd be healthier, and maybe more innovative for it."

Measuring creativity

The researchers had 176 adults complete a number of tasks designed to measure creativity in one of four conditions: walking indoors, walking outdoors, sitting indoors or sitting outdoors. The walking indoors condition consisted of a treadmill facing a wall, while the sitting outdoors condition consisted of being pushed in a wheelchair along the same path that the walkers took. This was designed to control for any effect on creativity from changing scenery.

The researchers performed three different experiments in which participants were asked to think of as many uses as possible for three separate objects over the course of four minutes. This is designed to measure divergent thinking, a way of generating ideas by coming up with as many potential solutions as possible. The researchers then rated participants' responses based on appropriateness and novelty (i.e., how many other participants had come up with the same use). In one of these studies, treadmill participants scored 60 percent higher than participants in the sitting indoors group.

Another experiment sought to measure a different variety of creativity. Participants were given a prompt and asked to create as complex of an analogy as possible. Analogies were scored based on how profoundly they captured the many elements of the original prompt. For example, in response to "a robbed safe," a participant would score more highly for saying "a soldier suffering from PTSD" than for saying "an empty wallet." This is because the former response better captured the emotions of dysfunction, violation and loss implied by "a robbed safe."

One hundred percent of participants who walked outside were able to generate at least one high-quality, complex analogy; in contrast, only 50 percent of the sitting indoors participants were able to do so.

Surprising findings

Finally, the researchers performed a test to see if non-creative thinking could also benefit from walking. Participants were given a test of convergent thinking, which requires arriving at a single, correct answer. The test consisted of looking at three words (e.g., "Swiss, cake and cottage") and identifying the word that connected them all ("cheese").

In contrast with the creative tests, participants performed slightly worse on the convergent tests while walking. This suggests that walking does not just benefit thinking in general, Oppezzo said, but the process of divergent, creative thinking in particular.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that walking indoors appeared to provide the same effect as walking outdoors.

Oppezzo originally thought that "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."

The creative benefits of walking lasted for a short time after the walk had concluded.

Next, the researchers hope to determine if all mild exercise has the same benefits, or if walking is special in some way.

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