We're About to Tell You the Secret to Creativity, and You May NOT Want to Sit Down

May 3rd, 2014 No Comments Other

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A new Stanford study has revealed that people are 60 percent more creative when walking than when sitting, regardless of whether their environment is indoors or outdoors.

The research, led by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, comprised four experiments involving 176 college students and other adults who completed tasks commonly used by researchers to gauge creative thinking.

Participants were placed in different conditions: walking indoors on a treadmill or sitting indoors – both facing a blank wall – and walking outdoors or sitting outdoors while being pushed in wheelchair – both along a pre-determined path on the Stanford campus. Researchers put seated participants in a wheelchair outside to present the same kind of visual movement as walking.

Three of the experiments relied on a “divergent thinking” creativity test. In these experiments, participants had to think of alternate uses for a given object. They were given several sets of three objects and had four minutes to come up with as many responses as possible for each set. A response was considered novel if no other participant in the group used it.

“Teaching students to take walks when they want to be creative seems like an achievable educational goal.”

The overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative (60% increase) while walking than sitting, the study found.

The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down.

The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.

Acknowledging that creativity is a popular and often complex topic in education circles, Professor Schwartz says his findings may offer teachers a quick, effective way to boost their students’ creative potential.

“From our vantage, acts of creativity largely depend on the choice to be creative,” Schwartz told InformED. “This further depends on having a set of strategies from which to choose, and ideally, those strategies do not come at a high cost.

“Teaching students to take walks when they want to be creative seems like an achievable educational goal.”

It’s important to note that, according to the study, the type of creativity affected by walking is associated with “divergent,” rather than “convergent,” thinking. In other words, walking benefits creative brainstorming but not the kind of focused thinking required for single, correct answers.

So there’s no need to adapt your classroom to a walking track. It’s the tasks that “require a fresh perspective” says Oppezzo, that should get your students tightening their laces.


Saga Briggs is an author at InformED. You can follow her on Twitter@sagamilena or read more of her writing here.

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