Go wild: backpacking may boost your creativity

If your creativity is in a slump, turn off your phone, strap on a backpack and hike a wilderness trail -- for four days, according to new research.

Backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature unplugged from electronic devices, report psychologists from the University of Utah and University of Kansas.

"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, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

"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."

"Writers for centuries have talked about why interacting with nature is important, and lots of people go on vacations," adds Strayer. "But I don't think we know very well what the benefits are from a scientific perspective."

To test their theory, the scientists recruited 56 people -- 30 men and 26 women -- averaging around 28 years old. They participated in four- to six-day wilderness hiking trips organized by the Outward Bound expedition school in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, and Washington state. No electronic devices were allowed on the trips.

On the morning of the trip, 24 subjects took a 10-item creativity test, while the remaining subjects took the test the morning of the fourth day of the trip. Four days in, subjects scored 50 percent better on the test than subjects who hadn't ventured out yet.

The study was published Wednesday in the online peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE. Access: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051474


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