Thursday, May 01, 2014
Exercise and creativity : New research
The experts keep telling us exercise generally improves thinking skills, both immediately and in the longer term. Multiple studies have shown that animals and people usually perform better after moderate exercise on tests of memory and executive function, which is essentially the ability to make decisions and organize thoughts. Similarly exercise has long been linked anecdotally to creativity. Many authors and artists declare they developed their best ideas during a walk but there has been little science to support the link between exercise and creativity. Researchers at Stanford University decided to put this to the test and a group of volunteers undergraduate under took a series of activities under scientific conditions. The subjects were asked to complete a series of psychological tests of creativity then the participants walked on the treadmill, at an easy, self-selected pace that felt comfortable. The treadmill faced a blank wall. While walking, each student repeated the creativity tests, which required about eight minutes. The results revealed for almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked. Most were able to generate about 60 percent more uses for an object, and the ideas were both “novel and appropriate.” Another group of students sat for two consecutive sessions of test-taking and subsequently walk for about eight minutes while tossing out ideas for object re-use, then sit and repeated the test. Again, walking markedly improved people’s ability to generate creative ideas, even when they sat down after the walk. In that case, the volunteers who had walked produced significantly more and subjectively better ideas than in their pre-exercise testing period. After portions of the experiment were moved outdoors and volunteers strolled Stanford’s pleasant, leafy campus for about eight minutes, they generated more creative ideas than when they sat either inside or outside for the same length of time. But they were not noticeably more creative as a result of their open-air walk than when they subsequently walked on an indoor treadmill, facing a blank wall. Researchers concluded walking may divert energy that otherwise would be devoted, intentionally or not, to damping down wild, creative thought. The paper appears in this month’s The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.