Feel as if your creativity is gone? Lack new ideas for your work — or your life? Don’t chalk it up to getting older or not being a “creative” or artistic type. Instead, what you may need is to simply get back to nature.
According to a study by psychologists from the University of Utah and University of Kansas, backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature without any electronic devices like cell phones and laptops. “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,” David Strayer, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Utah, said in a press statement. “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.”
The study by Strayer and University of Kansas psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and Paul Atchley was just published in the online journal PLOS ONE. It involved 56 people (30 men and 26 women) with an average age of 28 who took four-to six-day wilderness hikes. All electronic devices were strictly banned on the trips, which were organized by the Outward Bound expedition school in Alaska, Colorado, Maine and Washington state.
“Writers for centuries have talked about why interacting with nature is important, and lots of people go on vacations,” Strayer pointed out. “But I don’t think we know very well what the benefits are from a scientific perspective.” To help measure just how nature helps people potentially become more creative, the researchers gave 24 of the research subjects a 10-item creativity test the morning before they left for their backpacking trip. The other 32 took the test on the morning of the trip’s fourth day.
The results? “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 study concluded. Specifically, those who had been backpacking four days scored an average of 6.08 of the 10 questions correctly compared with an average score of 4.14 for people who had not started the backpacking trip.
The research team pointed out that their study wasn’t designed to “determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology or the combined influence of these two factors.” However, plenty of earlier research backs up the idea that it is nature that has beneficial and creativity-boosting effects. For example, previous studies have shown that being in nature is able to boost “executive attention,” which is 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. “By contrast, natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.”
Although it wasn’t discussed in the new study, previous research has shown that living and working in urban areas instead of being in natural, green spaces could impact the brain directly because of the effects air pollution has on it. For example, as Natural News covered earlier, a Ohio State University study found that long-term exposure to air pollution can cause changes in the brain that are associated with learning and memory problems and even depression.
About the author:
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s “Healthy Years” newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s “Focus on Health Aging” newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s “Men’s Health Advisor” newsletter and many others.
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