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The Evidence:
Walking, Nature, Travel & Risk-taking to Boost Creativity


"Give Your Ideas some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking." Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz. 2014.


Four experiments demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. In Experiment 1, while seated and then when walking on a treadmill, adults completed Guilford’s alternate uses (GAU) test of creative divergent thinking and the compound remote associates (CRA) test of convergent thinking. Walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity on the GAU, but only increased 23% of participants’ scores for the CRA. In Experiment 2, participants completed the GAU when seated and then walking, when walking and then seated, or when seated twice. Again, walking led to higher GAU scores. Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost.Experiment 3 generalized the prior effects to outdoor walking. Experiment 4 tested the effect of walking on creative analogy generation. Participants sat inside, walked on a treadmill inside, walked outside, orwere rolled outside in a wheelchair. Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies. The effects of outdoor stimulation and walking were separable. Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.

"Taking Your Mind for a Walk: A Qualitative Investigation of Walking and Thinking among Nine Norwegian Academics." Mia Keinänen. 2016.


Walking has long been associated with thinking. Anecdotal evidence from philosophers, writers, researchers, artists, business leaders and so forth testify to the powers of walking-for-thinking. This study explores walking-for-thinking among nine academics in Norway, four university professors, two research and development professionals, two researchers and a university president, who utilize walking-for-thinking as an explicit practice in the their professional lives. Based on in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews, the study identifies walking-for-thinking as a specific form of walking that has a steady rhythm and a specific individual speed that is experienced as most conducive to thinking. Further, the subjects experience walking-for-thinking as moving gestalt, an interplay between the person, environment and thinking where the rhythms of the body correlate with the rhythm of walking, affording feeling of enhanced memory and creativity. It is suggested that walking-for-thinking should be regarded as a an alternative space for inquiry especially today when sitting has been identified as an independent health hazard and when sedentary workers are urged to look for alternative ways of working that include more movement.

"Walking Facilitates Positive Affect (Even When Expecting the Opposite)." Jeffrey C. Miller and Zlatan Krizan. 2016.


Across 3 experiments, we rely on theoretical advancements that connect movement, embodiment, and reward-seeking behavior to test the proposal that walking incidental to routine activity (heretofore referred to as "incidental ambulation")-not specifically "exercise"-is a robust facilitator of positive affect. Experiment 1 reveals that ambulation facilitates positive affect even when participants are blind to the purpose of this activity. Experiment 2 further demonstrates the robustness of this effect of incidental ambulation by documenting its operation under conditions of low interest, as well as its power to override expectations of mood worsening. Experiment 3 replicates the main finding while eliminating the possibility that posture, ambient events, or experimenter bias account for the results. Taken together, the experiments demonstrate that incidental ambulation systematically promotes positive affect regardless of the focus on such movement, and that it can override the effects of other emotionally relevant events such as boredom and dread. The findings hold key implications for understanding the role of movement in shaping affect as well as for clarifying the embodied nature of emotion.

Why Walking Helps us Think, by Ferris Jabr, The New Yorker, Sept. 3, 2014



"Understanding Nature and its Cognitive Benefits." Kathryn E. Schertz and Marc G. Berman. 2019.

Many people have the intuition that interacting with natural environments benefits their psychological health. But what has research actually demonstrated about the benefits of nature experience and the potential mechanisms underlying those benefits? This article describes empirical research on the cognitive benefits of interacting with natural environments and several theories that have been proposed to explain these effects. We also propose future directions that may be useful in exploring the extent of nature’s effects on cognitive performance and some potential mediating factors. Specifically, exposure to a variety of natural stimuli (vs. urban stimuli) consistently improves working memory performance. One potential mechanism for this is the perception of low-level features of natural environments, such as edge density in the visual domain. Although low-level features have been shown to carry semantic information and influence behavior, additional studies are needed to indicate whether perceiving these features in isolation is necessary or sufficient for obtaining the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature.


"Creativity in the Wild:Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings." Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer, and Paul Atchley. 2012.


Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these. Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system. However, the impact of nature on higher-level tasks such as creative problem solving has not been explored. Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. A limitation of the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature.

"Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation." Benjamin Baird, Jonathan Smallwood, Michael D. Mrazek, Julia W. Y. Kam, Michael S. Franklin, and Jonathan W. Schooler. 2012.


Although anecdotes that creative thoughts often arise when one is engaged in an unrelated train of thought date back thousands of years, empirical research has not yet investigated this potentially critical source of inspiration. We used an incubation paradigm to assess whether performance on validated creativity problems (the Unusual Uses Task, or UUT) can be facilitated by engaging in either a demanding task or an undemanding task that maximizes mind wandering. Compared with engaging in a demanding task, rest, or no break, engaging in an undemanding task during an incubation period led to substantial improvements in performance on previously encountered problems. Critically, the context that improved performance after the incubation period was associated with higher levels of mind wandering but not with a greater number of explicitly directed thoughts about the UUT. These data suggest that engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.

"The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature."  Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan. 2008. "The Cognitive Benefits ofInteracting with Nature."


This study aimed to explore whether walking in nature may be beneficial for individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). Healthy adults demonstrate significant cognitive gains after nature walks, but it was unclear whether those same benefits would be achieved in a depressed sample as walking alone in nature might induce rumination, thereby worsening memory and mood.


"For a More Creative Brain, Travel." by Brent Crane, The Atlantic, March 31, 2015.


"This is Your Brain on Travel." By Suzanne Kelleher, Forbes, Jul 28, 2019.

"Benefits of Walking and Solo Experiences in UK Wild Places." Elizabeth Freeman, Jacqueline Akhurst, Katrina Bannigan, and Hazel James. 2017.


This paper examines human–nature interaction and how therapeutic this relationship is by investigating the efficacy of structured outdoor experience. Two walking and solo experience (WSEs) explored university students' (aged 20–43 years) perceptions of walking through and being with nature. The first was a 5-day journey (n = 4; 3 females and 1 male) and the second (n = 5; 3 females and 2 males) took place over two weekends, with a 2-week interval in-between. Pre- and post-experience interviews, journal writing, group discussions and a 9-month follow-up interviews were used to collect data and thematic analysis [Braun and Clarke (Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qual Res Psychol 2006;3:77–101.)] was applied. Both WSEs were considered together during analysis, as well as comparisons made between the two, in order to evaluate implications for practice. Benefits of the WSE that contributed to a general sense of well-being were: (i) gaining a sense of freedom and escape; (ii) gaining a sense of awareness and sensitivity to one's environment and its influence (iii) gaining confidence in being able to cope and take action; (iv) gaining a sense of perspective on and appreciation for life. Furthermore, the meaning participants formed in relation to their environment before, during and after the WSE, and the activity within that environment, played a role in their sense of well-being and in their motivations to re-access nature in other places. Findings suggest that WSEs are a cost effective way to give rise to beneficial and durable experiences, but a more holistic approach to policy is needed.

"Lessons from a Faraway Land: The Effect of Spatial Distance on Creative Cognition." Lile Jia,Edward R. Hirt, and Samuel C. Karpen. 2009.


Recent research [Förster, J., Friedman, R. S., & Liberman, N. (2004). Temporal construal effects on abstract and concrete thinking: Consequences for insight and creative cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 177–189] has identified temporal distance as a situational moderator of creativity. According to Construal Level Theory [Liberman, N., Trope, Y., & Stephan, E. (2007). Psychological Distance. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: A handbook of basic principles (pp. 353–381). New York: Guilford Press], temporal distance is just one case of the broader construct of psychological distance. In the present research, we investigated the effect of another dimension of psychological distance, namely, spatial distance, on creative cognition and insight problem solving. In two studies, we demonstrate that when the creative task is portrayed as originating from a far rather than close location, participants provide more creative responses (Study 1) and perform better on a problem solving task that requires creative insight (Study 2). Both theoretical and practical implications of this finding are discussed.
Psychology 45 (5): 1127–1131.


"Einstein at the Beach: The Hidden Relationship between Risk and Creativity." By Steven Kotler, Forbes, Oct. 11, 2012


"Risk-Taking and Creativity: Convergent, but Not Divergent Thinking is Better in Low-Risk
Wangbing Shen, Bernhard Hommel, Yuan Yuan, Liu Chang, and Wei Zhang. 2018.


The relationship between risk-taking and creativity is critical to understanding social harmony and innovation. Although some studies have assessed the link between risk-taking and divergent thinking, the association between risk-taking and convergent thinking remains unclear. Two studies were conducted to systemically investigate whether risk-taking is linked to convergent thinking. In Study 1, a sample of 127 healthy participants performed a Chinese remote associate test (RAT) and completed a risk-taking questionnaire. As predicted, risk-taking was negatively correlated with RAT performance, implying that risk-taking has a negative association with convergent thinking. Study 2 was an online survey study that replicated Study 1 and extended the measures to include self-rated risk and a measure of divergent thinking (the alternate uses task). The findings were fully replicated, showing that low risk-taking goes with better convergent thinking and risk-taking was not significantly correlated with divergent thinking. Furthermore, the risk-taking/convergent-thinking relationship was best described by a linear regression model in both studies. Taken together, these results suggest that appropriate reductions in risk-taking can boost convergent thinking.

"The Risky Side of Creativity: Domain Specific Risk Taking in Creative Individuals." Tyagi, Vaibhav, Yaniv Hanoch, Stephen D. Hall, Mark Runco, and Susan L. Denham. 2017.


Risk taking is often associated with creativity, yet little evidence exists to support this association. The present article aimed to systematically explore this association. In two studies, we investigated the relationship between five different domains of risk taking (financial, health and safety, recreational, ethical and social) and five different measures of creativity. Results from the first (laboratory-based) offline study suggested that creativity is associated with high risk taking tendencies in the social domain but not the other domains. Indeed, in the second study conducted online with a larger and diverse sample, the likelihood of social risk taking was the strongest predictor of creative personality and ideation scores. These findings illustrate the necessity to treat creativity and risk taking as multi-dimensional traits and the need to have a more nuanced framework of creativity and other related cognitive functions.

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