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Behavioral Science, Research, Stanford News

To get your creative juices flowing, start moving

walkingThe choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote a self-help book, The Creative Habit, that offers tips on nurturing your creativity. A New York Times book review distills Tharp’s message that generating original work involves not only a fertile mind, but also a well-conditioned rest of the body:

Forget about inspiration, [Tharp] says. You won’t get anything done sitting around waiting for it to strike.

Tharp’s favorite remedy is physical, to ”do a verb.” She picks a verb and videotapes herself acting it out: darting, twirling, squirming, chafing. ”The chemistry of the body is inseparable from the chemistry of the brain,” she writes. Movement is not just for dancers.

Now, research from Stanford shows that an ordinary action – walking – is associated with an increased output of creativity. Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, the study, comprising four experiments, measured creative output in 176 adult participants who walked outdoors on a prescribed path or indoors on a treadmill, or sat facing a blank wall inside or in a wheelchair along the same outdoor path.

From a Stanford News piece:

…walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found.

“I thought walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me,” [co-author Marily Oppezzo, PhD, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology,] said.

Co-author Daniel Schwartz, PhD, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, remarked, ”There’s work to be done to find out the causal mechanisms.” He continued, “And this is a very robust paradigm that will allow people to begin manipulations, so they can track down how the body is influencing the mind.”

Previously: Stanford’s explosive exercise in creativityThe importance of – and bias against – creativityPeering into the brains of freestyle rappers to better understand creativity and How the brain works during improvisation
Photo by Ian Sane

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