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Study: Nature Improves Creativity

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A new study conducted jointly by researchers from the University of Utah and the University of Kansas suggests that if employers want to boost creativity in their employees, they should send them packing, backpacking, that is. The results of the study released on December 12th showed that people taking a standardized test designed to measure creativity scored 50% higher after four days of backpacking on an Outward Bound excursion.

The researchers used the Remote Associates Test (RAT) which has been recognized for decades as a measure of creativity believed to be housed in the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain. Test results showed, according to the researchers, that after “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.”

Previous studies have shown that immersion in nature improved cognitive abilities such as short-term recall and detail-oriented tasks such as proof-reading, but, says study co-author David Strayer, these earlier studies didn’t measure the effect on executive attention or creativity.

The subjects in the study were not allowed to bring electronic devices on their trek in order to make sure that they were fully disconnected from technology. Strayer noted that “it’s equally plausible that it is not multitasking to wits’ end that is associated with the benefits.”

The researchers wrote in PLOS ONE, a Public Library of Science online journal, “Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television, etc.) that hijack attention. By contrast, natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.”

Tests on the backpackers’ creativity were performed in the natural setting rather than back in the lab after a brief exposure to nature as some previous tests had done, said the team. They theorized that exposure to nature may stimulate a set of brain areas that work together in what scientists call the default mode network which has been shown to correlate with peak performance on divergent thinking tasks, such as the RAT test. The default mode network is normally active during periods of restful introspection according to the team’s write-up in PLOS ONE.

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