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Just going for a stroll

A Stanford University experiment investigating work environments that promote creativity

  • Conducted by: Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, Stanford University
  • Publication: August 2014

The researchers gained their results by conducting a total of five experiments with students and personnel from Stanford University in California. In the fourth experimental arrangement, which is described here, 40 randomly selected individuals completed a creativity test.

The test persons were assigned to one of the following four experimental arrangements:

  • The first group sat in front of a white wall in a closed room.
  • The second group also saw this white wall, but instead of sitting they walked on a treadmill during the entire test period.
  • The third group went for a walk in the fresh air.
  • The fourth group was pushed in wheelchairs along the same path in the outdoor area of the university grounds.

Each participant was asked to demonstrate his or her creativity by developing associations and analogies on the basis of a series of images (such as a lightbulb that is extinguished). All of the answers were evaluated in terms of their amount of detail, degree of abstraction and other indicators of creativity. In addition, the novelty of the ideas that were developed was evaluated in comparison to other answers.


The results:

<b>Exercise and an attractive working environment increase creativity.</b> Starting situation: Sitting in a lean office. Walking in an attractive surrounding increases creativity by 400%. Sitting in an attractive working environment increases creativity by 250%. Walking in a lean environment increases creativity by 350%.
Exercise and an attractive working environment increase creativity. Starting situation: Sitting in a lean office. Walking in an attractive surrounding increases creativity by 400%. Sitting in an attractive working environment increases creativity by 250%. Walking in a lean environment increases creativity by 350%. Lupe_grau

  • As had been expected, the more attractive surroundings had a positive influence on the test persons’ creativity. The individuals who walked around on the university campus developed far more new ideas than those who looked at a white wall in a sparsely furnished room.
  • But the effect of walking was even stronger. Even the test subjects who walked on a treadmill in the boring indoor room were able to develop more new ideas than all of the test subjects who were sitting in wheelchairs outdoors. In addition, the opportunity to walk had an extremely positive effect on the quality of the ideas developed by the walkers.
  • The researchers also observed a further effect of walking: it obviously increases the desire to talk. The experimenters observed that the test persons who went for a walk on the campus or walked on the treadmill explained their ideas eloquently, deepened them in the process, and thus arrived at more precise descriptions.

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In order to develop new ideas, one doesn’t necessarily have to walk around outdoors. Simply strolling through the office building can stimulate the brain cells.

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Back in antiquity, people already knew that physical movement can lead to new ideas. For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was known for strolling across the marketplace in Athens with his discussion partners while leading them to new insights through his questions. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to set up a 'marketplace' in your office?


Source: Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, Stanford University, Research Report 'Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking', in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2014, Vo. 40, No. 4, 1142-1152 (http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xlm-a0036577.pdf)