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Researchers link walking to creativity

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The next time a group of entrepreneurial students are struggling to come up with the next big startup idea, new research suggests taking a walk might spark some creative juices.

The research, conducted by Professor of Education Daniel Schwartz and Marily Oppezzo Ph.D. ’13, shows that creativity improves while people walk, with individuals also experiencing a small boost in creativity for a short period after walking.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why,” Oppezzo and Schwartz wrote in the study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

While most past research has focused on the general long-term effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive ability, Oppezzo and Schwartz’s research is the first to explicitly examine the connection between walking and creativity.

The researchers tested both walking outdoors and walking on a treadmill in a blank room and found no difference in participants’ ability to think creatively.

“I thought walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me,” Oppezzo told the Stanford News Service.

With 176 college students and adults participating in the trials, the researchers used three experiments to gauge creativity using a “divergent thinking” — a thought process in which individuals come up with creative ideas by considering many potential solutions — test.

In these experiments, individuals were given an object and told to come up with alternate uses. A response was considered creative if it was not given by any of the other participants.

Walking, however, did not increase other types of thinking, showing no positive effect on focused thinking.

This isn’t to say that every task at work should be done while simultaneously walking, but those that require a fresh perspective or new ideas would benefit from it,” Oppezzo said.

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Andrew Vogeley ‘17 served as President and Editor-in-Chief of Volume 249. He is a senior majoring in political science and hails from the great state of Texas (and he’ll be sure to let you know it). Outside of The Daily, Andrew is President of RUF, a Christian fellowship group. To contact Andrew, email him at avogeley ‘at’ stanford.edu