If you’re like me, you’ll probably take several breaks at work today to look longingly at an internet picture of a bit of forest on your smartphone and thought to yourself, “Oof! Being attached to this device is stifling my creativity!”
You probably don’t need a scientist to tell you that being too wrapped up in your cell phone or tablet is no good for the creative side of your brain.
And yet, scientists went ahead and quantitatively proved as much anyway.
Researchers from the Universities of Kansas and Utah split up 56 hikers into two groups:
- One who took a creativity test BEFORE they set off on a four-day hike during which electronics use was not allowed and
- One who took the same test after.
They found that the hikers who took the same test afterward scored on average 50% higher on the creativity test.
Source: Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer, and Paul Atchley. “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings.” December 12, 2012.
The results should seem pretty intuitive. Creatives of all stripes have retreated to nature and away from the technology of the day to get the creative juices flowing for ages and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is only the most famous among countless writings extolling the benefits of living simply in nature.
We’ve only got so much cognitive bandwidth, and it only makes sense that we’d struggle to come up with new ideas when our brains are running at 100 miles an hour sucking in the constant stream of social media, work communications, and the news.
I definitely have some concerns with the statistical analysis used in the study*, but this is certainly enough to remind me just how important it is to take a mid-day walk, get out of the city over the weekends, and use up my vacation days to reset the brain.
What do you do to reset the brain and get your creative juices flowing?
*Alright, let’s talk concerns (You should probably not read this unless you’re a very boring stats nerd). The researchers worked with a tour guide organization to have access to people that were planning to hike in a big group anyway and cites the prolonged, sustained exposure to nature as a benefit of the method. And it is a big benefit; there’s no way you could get participants in a normal controlled lab study to head out for four days and come back to take your test. However, one of the basic tests for proving causality between any two variables — in this case, separation from gadgets and creativity — is that there are no other reasonable factors that may confound the data. In this case, I can think of a few:
- Four days of exercise might help creativity (e.g. Would a four-day basketball camp have a similar effect?)
- Four days of socializing with new people might help creativity (e.g. A cruise)
- Four days removed from work might help creativity (e.g. sit at home)
- Four days of anything new might help creativity (e.g. New video games)
That said, you should probably still go outside more 🙂