60-Second Mind

Natural Setting and Tech Break Boost Creativity

Volunteers who spent at least four days hiking with no communications or computing technology scored higher on creativity tests upon their return than did a control group. Rose Eveleth reports

Robert Frost famously wrote: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep."

But such natural settings may offer more than just beauty. They might also foster creativity. A recent study suggests that a backpacking trip can substantially increase just how inventive your brain can be. The finding is in the journal PLoS ONE. [Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer and Paul Atchley, Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings]

Researchers sent 56 subjects out on four-to-six day wilderness hiking trips without access to electronic devices—no cell phones, no iPads, no game boys, nothing.

Upon their return, the hikers took tests designed to measure creativity. A control group that hadn't been in the woods scored a 4.14 out of 10 on the test. But the woods wanderers scored a 6.08.

Previous studies have shown that down time in general makes people more creative. The researchers thus say that this creativity boost is probably due to not just nature, but to taking a break from the stresses of work and technology.

So the next time you get stuck on a tough problem, or can't seem to concentrate—try a walk in the woods. It could help your creative promise.

—Rose Eveleth

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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