Walking spurs creative thinking, according to research from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. The research was inspired by anecdotal claims that many people do their best thinking while walking. The research team put college students through a battery of assessments related to walking and being outdoors.
A total of 176 subjects, mostly college students, participated in the study, which consisted of multiple experiments. The researchers organized the experiments to compare how walking or being sedentary affects free-flowing, creative thought. The researchers tracked whether participants’ creative responses were novel (unique compared to all responses from the group) or feasible and appropriate (something that could realistically solve a problem).
In one experiment, participants either sat, sat and then walked, or walked and then sat for the tests. The participants who sat for the second test, but had walked in the first had fewer novel ideas; however, the walking-then-sitting group had more creative ideas than those who sat for both tests.
Forty students participated in another experiment in which they were divided into several groups. One group sat for a pair of tests, one sat and then walked on a treadmill, and one walked outdoors. The researchers compared these students’ performance with that of students who were pushed in a wheelchair outside or sitting inside. The students who walked—both indoors or outside—had more creative responses than those who sat inside or who were pushed in a wheelchair outdoors.
While the authors call for more research on how walking impacts creativity, it is clear that walking does support creative thought. The researchers focused on walking because it is an accessible activity that most people can fit into their day, even while at work.
“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,” explained Marily Oppezzo, PhD.
This research is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.
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