16 May 2014

Walking for Creativity

Welcome back. If you follow this blog, you’re aware that, along with recalling, I often explore, especially recent research. Research comes in different flavors from vanilla to tutti frutti. One type of applied research that anyone can appreciate is when the study findings confirm what you already know or have experienced.

That was my reaction when I saw that a recent Stanford University study demonstrated that walking boosts creative thought.

Before retiring, I had always found that if I took a walk after work or when I hit the wall on a problem, there was a pretty good chance I’d come up with a solution or at least an approach to a solution. Even today, when I’m wondering how to develop a blog post or what to use for a photo addendum, there’s a better chance I’ll come up with an idea if I take a walk than if I just sit and ponder.

Stanford Study and Tests

So what did the Stanford investigators do to validate my experience? They conducted four experiments in which volunteer participants took tests used to measure creative thinking, while the participants were sitting, walking or being pushed in a wheelchair, indoors and outdoors.

A divergent creative thought test used in 3 of the 4 experiments gave participants a limited time to suggest alternative uses for common objects. For example, uses suggested for a “button” included a dollhouse doorknob and tiny strainer. A convergent thought test used on one experiment had participants supply a word that fits with each of three given words. Given “cottage--Swiss--cake,” for instance, the answer is cheese. A third test used only for the last experiment had participants generate analogies to statements. “A candle burning low” might elicit “the last hand of a gambler’s last game.”


For maximum creative and focused thought,
try a Treadmill Desk by Details from Steelcase,
but you might want to drag it outdoors.

In the first experiment, 48 undergraduates completed the divergent and convergent thought tests first when sitting and then when walking on a treadmill. The results showed an average increase in creative output of about 60 percent when walking. Participants generated more uses when walking, and more of those uses were novel and appropriate. In contrast to creative thought, however, walking did not benefit activities that require more focused, convergent types of thinking, such as choosing one correct answer.

In the second experiment, a different group of 48 students completed the divergent thought test after being randomly assigned to three conditions: sit then walk (as in first experiment), walk then sit, and sit then sit. Again, walking increased creativity. Participants who walked first did better than those who sat, and those who only sat did not improve. Of note is that after walking, participants’ seated creativity was much higher than the creativity of those who had not walked.

In the third experiment, divergent thought test data were collected from 40 students under four conditions--sit then sit, sit then walk, walk then sit, and walk then walk—but unlike the first two experiments, students walked outdoors. Although walking again increased creative output, the effect of being outdoors was inconclusive.

The fourth experiment enlisted 40 participants to assess the effect of walking on generating creative analogies, in a fixed time, while sitting indoors, walking indoors, walking outdoors and being pushed in a wheelchair outdoors. Walking indoors or outdoors increased analogical creativity, and walking outdoors rather than just being outdoors produced the most novel and highest quality analogies.

Wrap Up

It seems rather conclusive that if creative thought is your goal, take a walk, ideally outdoors (weather permitting). How or why your creative side is heightened by walking and the environment is the subject of continuing research.

Though walking works for me, I think I’m even more creative during my predawn jogging. Of course, that could be because I’ve slept and I’m sharper. Or maybe that’s because I’m still groggy and just more receptive to any silly idea. Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Please invite others who might be interested.


-Stanford researchers’ paper from Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition:

-Article on paper on Science Daily website:

1 comment:

  1. It's a function of how much the gray matter gets shaken. So, running is more creative!