Nature Can Help Your Creativity
December 13, 2012

Spending Some Time With Nature Could Help Writers Block

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Feeling a bit of writers block in all your creative endeavors? Maybe you should try heading out for a backpacking adventure into the wilderness, according to research published recently in the journal PLoS ONE.

Psychologists from the University of Utah and University of Kansas found that backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature disconnected from electronic devices.

"This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn't been formally demonstrated before," said David Strayer, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

"It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature."

He said that for centuries, writers talked about why interacting with nature is important, but "I don't think we know very well what the benefits are from a scientific perspective."

The researchers included 56 people, 30 men and 26 women, who had an average age of 28 years old. They participated in four- to six-day wilderness hiking trips organized by the Outward Bound expedition school in Alaska, Colorado, Maine and Washington.

Twenty-four of the study subjects took a 10-item creativity test the morning before they began their trek, and 32 took the test on the morning of the trip's fourth day.

The authors said they found that people who had been backpacking four days got an average of 6.08 of the 10 questions correct, compared to those who took the test beforehand and only got 4.14 questions correct.

"We show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent," the researchers conclude in the journal.

They did say that their study was not designed to determine if the effects are because of an increased exposure to nature, a decrease exposure to technology, or a little bit of both.

Earlier research indicates that nature has beneficial effects, and Strayer says that it is equally plausible that it is not multitasking to wits' end that is associated with the benefits.

These previous studies indicate that children today spend only 15 to 25 minutes daily in outdoor play and sports, and that the average 8- to 18-year-old spends more than 7.5 hours a day using media like TV, cell phones and computers.

The researchers also cite a past study on "attentional restoration therapy," which claims that modern technology and multitasking place demands on our "executive attention." This executive attention gives us the ability to switch among tasks, stay on task and inhibit distracting actions and thoughts.

"Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television, etc.) that hijack attention," the psychologists wrote in the journal. "By contrast, natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish."

Previous research showed that going on a hike can improve proofreading, the ability to see a certain optical illusion, and the ability to repeat digits backwards after hearing a list of digits.

"The current study is unique in that participants were exposed to nature over a sustained period and they were still in that natural setting during testing," the researchers write.