Study shows time outdoors, away from technology, can boost creativity

Time in nature could restore brain functions that are taxed by using technology, such as attention span and problem solving, according to new study. 

National Park Service

A recent study shows that time spent outdoors in wilderness, and away from devices like smart phones and laptops, may actually boost creative thinking.

When we reported last summer’s preliminary findings of the same report, it appeared that hiking may increase cognitive abilities. But when the study was published last month, results revealed that not only does nature make us more creative, but it may be because it offers us an escape from technology.

The authors concluded that four nature-filled days - intentionally away from electronic devices - were linked with 50 percent higher scores on a test for creativity.

In the study, 56 study participants went on hiking trips in the wildernesses of Colorado, Maine, Washington and Alaska for four to six days before taking creativity tests. The tests showed significant improvement in creative thinking.

The results:

According to the study's authors, immersion in nature can restore certain brain functions that are taxed by technology, including:

  • attention span
  • problem solving
  • multi-tasking

The authors propose more research be conducted to determine whether these results are due to nature’s effect on our moods, merely getting a break from technology that constantly demands our shifting attentions, or both. 

"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," says David Strayer, co-author of the study and psychology professor.

"It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world."

"Burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature," Strayer said.

This research does seem timely given recent dramatic shifts that indicate as we become more plugged in, we also become more tuned out from the natural world.

The Wilderness Society advocates for conservation funding and public lands protection so that all Americans can have the invaluable opportunities offered by outdoor recreation.

See also: 

Does hiking make you smarter?

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