“Cognition In The Wild”: The Great Outdoors Makes Us More Creative

Could spending time in the wilderness make you more creative? Brett Prettyman, writing in the Salt Lake Tribune:

“Humans have long recognized the value of ‘getting away from it all,’ but a new study, co-written by a University of Utah psychology professor, attempts to put a measurable meaning on the old saying.

David Strayer pondered the value of respites from the real world during trips to southern Utah starting two decades ago. As his own studies eventually revealed, those moments spent in redrock country turned out to be the best time for Strayer to be thinking about the connection.

‘We start to think differently when out in nature. Our thoughts become more clear, more coherent, not as fragmented,’ Strayer said. ‘I started looking at this idea 20 years ago when I moved to Utah. I started building a library on some of the research that had been done. I was surprised there was not as much as research as should have been done.’

Results of the study by Strayer and University of Kansas psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and Paul Atchley in PLOS ONE, an online journal of the Public Library of Science, were released Wednesday..

The most-telling number from the research is 50 percent: as in backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after four days in nature and away from smartphones, iPods and laptops.

Strayer and the other researchers sent 56 people, with an average age of 28, on four- to six-day wilderness trips in Colorado, Maine, Alaska and Washington state.

Twenty-four of the Outward Bound expedition participants took a 10-question creativity test the morning before they began the backpacking trip. Thirty-two took the test on the fourth morning of the trip. Scores after three nights in the wild were an average of 6.08 correct with a 4.14 average for those who took the test before the trip.

‘The constant bombardment of technology and urban life is draining the frontal portion of the brain, suppressing problem solving, decision making and creativity,’ said Strayer, who teaches a ‘Cognition in the Wild’ class through the University of Utah in the backcountry of southern Utah. ‘When you get away from that hustle and bustle and out in nature, where it is soft and fascinating, your brain can replenish, become sharper and focus on thinking.’” (Read more here.)

This jibes with the experience of many of us: when we’re sitting there at the computer, fingers poised over the keyboard, the ideas don’t come—but in a new and different setting, our minds unclench and the ideas flow.

One Response to ““Cognition In The Wild”: The Great Outdoors Makes Us More Creative”

  1. David N. Pino says:

    Not only can exposure to nature boost creativity, it is essential for healthy physical and emotional development. I’ve had direct experience with this as an educator, scout leader, and father. Children are often nature deprived in our technology driven world, and any exposure to nature helps the brain “relax” and return to its more natural, inquisitive state. Richard Louv wrote an excellent, in depth book on this topic, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

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