For years, people have anecdotally offered advice to those stuck in a rut or with writer’s block to step away from their work, and take a walk. Now research confirms that stepping away from the effort and walking it off actually gets the creative juices flowing.
People have claimed they do their best thinking when they get up and get moving around. A new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition demonstrates that taking a walk, even a simple stroll around the room, gets the creative juices flowing. “With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why,” noted researcher Marily Oppezzo, PhD, a psychology professor from Santa Clara University, who was lead author of the Stanford University study.
During the study, the researchers worked with 176 volunteers, who were mostly college students. The participants were divided into groups and given different tests to measure their creativity both walking and not walking.
In one experiment, the volunteers were given four minutes to complete two creativity tests if which they were asked to come up with creative alternative uses for everyday items. For the first test, they were sitting at a desk facing a blank wall. For the second, they were walking on a treadmill, which also faced a blank wall. The results showed that 81 percent of participants improved their creative output after they went walking.
For another test, volunteers took a word association task with 15 three-word groups where they were asked to identify what word connected them into a common phrase. This test, which looked at convergent thinking, had opposite results. The sitters had better results than the walkers. This led the researchers to determine that creative thinking can be enhanced by walking, not all thinking.
They then did experiments to look at the creative effect of walking over time. People who took the creativity test while walking, and then sat down, continued to show a creative boost while they did the subsequent sitting portion of the test.
To verify that the enhanced performance effect was not created because volunteers because more comfortable with the test methodology, the researchers had a group of participants take the test twice while sitting. For that group, performance did not improve the second time around.
In other experiments, they tested whether walking it off outside gets creative juices flowing better than walking inside. Those test did not show any real difference in creativity levels, but walking outside did make the participants noticeably more talkative.
While the studies confirmed the link between walking and creativity does exist, the researchers have said they hope to next determine why. In the meantime, the research suggests a walk before a brainstorming meeting (or during) would certainly be beneficial. Oppezzo commented that it is “so cool that you can just go out, take a walk, and make your creativity better.”
Songwriters have long encouraged people to Walk On or Walk This Way. So, if brainstorming with others or working along and the thoughts are just not coming, hum some bars of Passion Pit’s I Took a Walk or Pink’s Walk Away and get moving. Research shows walking it off will truly help gets the creative juices flowing.
By Dyanne Weiss