Walk for thought : the effects of taking a walk outside on creative ideation
- Abstract Early research often took creativity as an individual trait tied to personality and cognitive abilities. The practical goal was to identify creative people. More recently, research has begun to examine how training and social arrangements may improve creativity. In this case, the practical goal is to develop interventions and social architectures that foster creativity. The current research takes a different approach. It examines whether it is possible to temporarily improve creativity through simple actions. The goal is to develop simple prescriptions that can help anyone be more creative when needed. The simple prescription is to take a walk outside. One widely adopted definition of creativity is that it involves the production of appropriate novelty. Creative ideas are not only unusual compared to the backdrop of other average ideas, they are also appropriate to the context or topic. The achievement of creativity, both in small, everyday moments and on a grand scale, has many facets and processes. One key component of creativity is the initial generation of appropriate novel ideas, which may be subsequently refined and built upon. The current research adapts two widely accepted creativity tasks that focus on this aspect of creativity. Guilford's Alternate Uses asks people to generate ways to use objects that differ from their original intended use. It is a measure of flexibility and divergent thinking. Barron's Symbolic Equivalence Test asks people to generate analogies to base prompts. It is a measure of structured ideation and originality. In both cases, people receive a set of prompts, and they produce multiple ideas within a fixed time period. The current research employs multiple studies to examine the effects of two simple factors on each of the creativity tests. One factor is walking. No prior research has examined whether creativity increases while people are walking. The research on exercise physiology has found a variety of cognitive and emotional effects associated with different levels of exercise. Walking has a different set of effects compared to aerobic exercise. The effects can be further differentiated by whether they are measured during exercise or after. Most research on walking has found that it can compete with some cognitive tasks, which implies that it draws upon common resources. Some of these studies use cognitive tasks that require a high degree of concentration. Creativity, however, may depend on freeing oneself from an over-focus on one set of ideas. Exercise is known to improve mood and decrease rumination, which may further free people to generate novel ideas. The second factor is the dynamic flow of outdoor stimulation. For intense concentration that draws heavily upon working memory, a non-stimulating environment may be optimal, because it does not lead to distraction. Generating initial ideas, however, may be better served by an environment of moderately changing stimulation that can spark new trains of thought. Several studies have also shown that the outdoors can have a restorative effect and elevate mood, which in turn may lead people towards more open ideation. The current research examines whether moving through an outdoor space influences creative ideation. The studies do not isolate the benefits of moving outside from sitting outside or moving through a diverse-stimuli indoor space such as a shopping mall. Instead they make an initial demonstration that moving through the outdoors can improve creativity. Three studies compared self-propelled movement versus sitting. Two of the studies also compared moving through the outdoors versus sitting in an indoor space. Across the studies, the double main effects of (a) walking and (b) moving through an outdoor space where replicated, once with the Alternate Uses Test and once with the Symbolic Equivalence Test. The studies also provided a hint that walking through the outdoors has a synergistic effect that exceeds the effect of both factors added together. Experiment 1 compared adults who sat inside versus walked outside while completing an oral administration of the Alternate Uses test. Each participant completed two sessions. Half of the participants completed the first session sitting indoors, while the other half completed the first session walking outdoors. Then, half of each group switched contexts. This created the four possible combinations of In-In, In-Out, Out-In, and Out-Out. When people walked outside, they generated significantly more appropriate and novel responses. Moreover, those participants who sat inside after walking outdoors continued to exhibit a high level of creativity, which suggests a residue of physical activity. Additionally, when walking outside, all participants generated significantly more uses involving the outdoor context, which were also more novel within the complete set of participant responses. This indicates that the outdoor stimulation had a direct effect on their creative output. Experiment 2 replicated the effect with Barron's Symbolic Equivalence test, which was adapted to an oral administration amenable to walking. In this study, participants completed one of four conditions while generating symbolic equivalents: sit inside, walk on a treadmill inside, being wheeled outside in a wheel chair, or walk outside. This design separated self-propelled movement from a moving, outdoor context. As in Experiment 1, walking had a main effect. It led to more novel, well-structured ideas, indoors or out. There was also a main effect of outdoor movement on the novelty of the analogies, and as before, people outside generated more analogies that referenced outdoor content. Experiment 3 returned to the Alternate Uses to test whether walking has a main effect independent of the outdoor context. People either walked on a treadmill indoors or they sat indoors while completing the task. The study also enlisted participants drawn from a community college, whereas the prior studies enlisted participants from a highly selective private university. Thus, this experiment tested the generalization of walking found in Experiment 2 using a different population and a different measure of creativity. Participants who walked on the treadmill produced more appropriate uses. Additionally, participants who walked on the treadmill and then sat down in the same room to complete the second half of the Alternate Uses test showed strong positive residual effects as in Experiment 1. The finding that walking and flowing outdoor stimulation improve creativity independently and jointly contributes to several literatures. It is a first demonstration for the creativity literature, and it is a first demonstration relevant to the exercise literature concerned with cognitive outcomes. It is also relevant to education. Many people hope that education can improve people's creativity. The results demonstrate a simple way that education can help do this. Teach people that if they walk outside, it will help them be more creative. They will generate more novel ideas, and those ideas will be better structured than if they simply sit inside.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Oppezzo, Marily Ann
|Stanford University, School of Education.
|Schwartz, Daniel L
|Schwartz, Daniel L
|Willinsky, John, 1950-
|Willinsky, John, 1950-
|Statement of responsibility
|Submitted to the School of Education.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2012.
- © 2012 by Marily Ann Oppezzo
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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