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Take a Walk to Spark Your Creativity

When the task at hand requires some imagination, taking a walk may lead to more creative thinking than sitting, according to research published in April 2014 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

A release from the association quotes researcher Marily Oppezzo PhD of Santa Clara University, as saying, "Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking, "With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why."

The release report that while Oppezzo and colleague Daniel L. Schwartz, PhD, were at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, they conducted studies involving 176 people. The investigators found that those who walked instead of sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair consistently gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking, such as coming up with alternate uses for common objects and devising original analogies to capture complex ideas. When asked to solve problems with a single answer, however, the walkers fell slightly behind those who responded while sitting,

The release notes that previous research has shown that regular aerobic exercise may protect cognitive abilities, but current study examined whether simply walking could temporarily improve some creative thinking compared to focused concentration. "Asking someone to take a 30-minute run to improve creativity at work would be an unpopular prescription for many people," Schwartz said. "We wanted to see if a simple walk might lead to more free-flowing thoughts and more creativity."

Of the participants tested for creativity while walking, 100 percent came up with more creative ideas in one experiment, while 95 percent, 88 percent and 81 percent of the walker groups in the other experiments had more creative responses compared with when they were sitting. If a response was unique among all responses from the group, it was considered novel. Researchers also gauged a participant's total number of responses and whether a response was feasible and appropriate to the constraints of the task. For example, "Putting lighter fluid in soup is novel, but it is not very appropriate," Oppezzo said.

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