Wild Ideas

A new study has confirmed what you’ve probably suspected for awhile: Spending time in nature without computers, phones, and other electronic devices makes people more creative.

Most city-dwellers and suburbanites can attest that our interactions with nature are declining, while our attachment to technology is on the rise. The number of national park visits per capita has dropped by one-fifth in the last couple of decades, and people are spending less of their recreational time in nature. Researchers had investigated the effect of nature exposure on activities such as proof-reading and attention span, but they hadn’t yet examined possible links with creative problem solving.

In a study published in PLoS ONE, 56 people completed 4- to 6-day hikes in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, or Washington. Participants were not allowed to bring any electronic gadgets with them. Twenty-four of the hikers took a test that measured their creativity and problem-solving skills before the trip began, while the other 32 people took the test on the fourth day of hiking.

People who took the test after hiking scored roughly 50 percent higher than those who took the test before hiking, the study authors report. The improvement suggests that “there is a real, measurable cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time truly immersed in a natural setting,” the team writes.

The researchers couldn’t say whether the creative bump was caused by an increase in nature exposure or a decrease in technology use. But since the two usually go together, they write, “they may be considered to be different sides of the same coin.”Roberta Kwok | 13 December 2012

Source: Atchley, R.A., D.L. Strayer, and P. Atchley. 2012. Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051474.

Image © SeDmi | Shutterstock.com



  • Harsimran Singh Aulakh December 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    I agree.


  • Gerald December 20, 2012 at 8:44 am

    why didn’t they test the SAME people before and after the hikes? I hope the results are true, but the test seems flawed.


    • Kecina December 24, 2012 at 8:34 am

      I’m thinking of the same thing.


    • roberta January 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Hi Gerald,

      I posed your question to one of the study authors, David Strayer. He says that one drawback to testing the same people before and after the hikes is that “there could be practice effects that are responsible for the differences between testing sessions” — “practice effects” meaning that the person might be better at taking the test the second time.

      However, he says the team has also done some research testing the same people on separate occasions and found a 45% improvement. So both study designs appear to produce similar results.



      • Katie January 2, 2013 at 11:20 pm

        Thank you for that response, Roberta! I was wondering the same thing as those above, and it was great to get an explanation.

  • tom December 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    The conclusion that humans function more efficiently if exposed as much as possible to a environment that our species evolved in for many millions of years seems so self evident that I cannot see what the study has accomplished.


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