Unplugged: Spending Time in Nature Increases Creativity
Exploring nature without technological distractions improves creativity, attention, and executive function.
--by Jenara Nerenberg
Feeling restored and more creative after spending time in nature is a common experience, and new research published today in PLOS ONE
indicates that yes, creativity and executive function do increase after
spending time in the woods or elsewhere in nature—with all of your
electronic devices turned off or left behind.
Specifically, University of Utah researchers found that those who participated in the Outward Bound wilderness hiking program, which often includes participants as young as 16, answered more questions correctly on problem-solving tests after several days on the trip than they did beforehand.
"We show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity and problem-solving task by a full 50 percent," say the researchers. Their findings highlight the restorative effects of "unplugging" from the internet, cell phones, computers, and other distracting gadgets.
The Expert Take
suspect that the improvements are associated with restoring executive
attention by increased interaction in nature and withdrawing from our
urban multitasking environment," co-author and University of Utah
psychology professor David Strayer tells Healthline.
The findings are not isolated occurrences, says Strayer. "We have also replicated this effect in a repeated measures design, where the same person was tested several different times."
Simply put, people's creativity improved when they immersed themselves in nature. "We used a standardized measure of creativity and compared a pre-hike group and an in-hike group, and found that creativity scores increased by 50 percent."
Spending time in nature—away from
phones, computers, televisions, alarms, sirens, and other
distractions—can do wonders for your emotional and physical health, and
should be considered a viable treatment option for those suffering from
stress, creativity blocks, and productivity slumps.
Be sure to see your doctor if distractions become overwhelming and interfere with your daily life, as additional professional counseling may also be beneficial.
Source and Method
30 men and 26 women participated in Outward Bound hiking trips in Alaska, Maine, Colorado, and Washington state without their electronic devices. Those who were four days into the journey averaged 6.08 correct answers on a 10-item creativity test, compared with 4.14 correct answers among those who hadn't yet started the trip. Researchers used the Remote Associates Test, or RAT, which is a standard measuring tool for creative thinking and problem-solving.
The positive effects of nature on creativity, especially in children, have been well-documented. Children with ADD function better after spending time in "green" play settings, according to a 2001 study in Environment and Behavior. A 2006 literature review in Health Promotion International suggests that increased contact with nature helps prevent mental illness. Even having indoor plants in an office helps improve workers' attention, says a 2011 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.