Walking Linked to More Creative Solutions than Sitting

Marily Oppezzo

Marily Oppezzo

People who walked instead of sat generated more novel and feasible ideas, reported Santa Clara University’s Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz of Stanford University.

Dan Schwartz

Dan Schwartz

More than 175 volunteers completed well-validated assessments of creative thinking:

Guilford’s Alternate Uses (GAU) for common objects, created by University of Southern California’s J. P. Guilford, to measure of cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking,

JP Guilford

Edward Bowden

Edward Bowden

Compound Remote-Association test (CRA), developed by University of Wisconsin’s Edward Bowden and Mark Beeman of Northwestern to evaluate convergent thinking,

Barron’s Symbolic Equivalence Test (BSE), introduced by Frank Barron of University of California, Santa Cruz to calibrate the number of original insightful analogies generated for complex ideas.

Frank Barron

Oppezzo and Schwartz coded analogies according to a protocol developed by Northwestern’s Dedre Gentner to measure:

  • Appropriateness,
  • Novelty,
  • Quality, determined by:

o   Level of detail (vague vs precise),
o   Semantic proximity to the base statement (near vs far),
o   Relational mapping to the base statement (low vs high).

Dedre Gentner

Dedre Gentner

Walking was associated with increased divergent creativity on Guilford’s Alternate Uses (GAU) for 81% of participants and improved convergent thinking measured by Compound Remote-Association test (CRA) for 23% of participants’ scores
This trend significantly increased when volunteers walked outside:  These participants produced the most novel and highest quality analogies.

Walkers generated an average of 60% more creative ideas than when seated.
In addition, people who walked were more talkative, and their greater verbal output was associated with more valid creative ideas.

Marc Berman

Marc Berman

Participants generated more valid creative solutions when they walked first then sat for the next problem-solving session.

John Jonides

John Jonides

These effects may be explained by Attention Restoration Theory (ART), described by University of Michigan’s Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan as two types of attention:

Involuntary attention, captured by inherently intriguing stimuli (“bottom-up”),

-Voluntary or directed attention, directed by cognitive-control processes (“top-down”).

Stephen Kaplan

Stephen Kaplan

They suggested that walking in natural environments renews directed attention and improves performances on difficult tasks even when no longer walking.
Even viewing photographs of nature was associated with improved performance on a complex backwards digit-span task.

In contrast, walking in an urban walk requires directed attention to avoid obstacles and dangerous situations, and provides less opportunity to restore directed attention.

Jin Fan

Jin Fan

After volunteers walked, they performed better on attentional function tasks measured by Attention Network Test, developed by Jin Fan of Mount Sinai Medical School.
Items evaluate:



-Executive attention.

Benefits of walking on creative production were not related to mood or weather conditions during four different seasons.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche

These studies validate Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking and suggest the value of walking in a natural setting before generating creative ideas.

Because amount of talking was associated with increased number and quality of creative ideas, allocating sufficient time for extended discussion is likely to increase innovative output.

These findings suggest that access to walking places in natural settings enhances cognitive functioning and performance.

-*How effective have you found taking a brief walk outdoors before high-stakes discussions?


Twitter @kathrynwelds
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©Kathryn Welds


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