Walking Improves creativity

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.
L.A. Ciceroman walking on path

Many people claim they do their best thinking while walking. A new study finds that walking indeed boosts creative inspiration.

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. And perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas.

new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this.

Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why,” Oppezzo and Schwartz wrote in the study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Walking vs. sitting

Other research has focused on how aerobic exercise generally protects long-term cognitive function, but until now, there did not appear to be a study that specifically examined the effect of non-aerobic walking on the simultaneous creative generation of new ideas and then compared it against sitting, Oppezzo said.

A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – or 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,” Oppezzo said.

The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.

Gauging creative thinking

The research comprised four experiments involving 176 college students and other adults who completed tasks commonly used by researchers to gauge creative thinking. Participants were placed in different conditions: walking indoors on a treadmill or sitting indoors – both facing a blank wall – and walking outdoors or sitting outdoors while being pushed in wheelchair – both along a pre-determined path on the Stanford campus. Researchers put seated participants in a wheelchair outside to present the same kind of visual movement as walking.

Different combinations, such as two consecutive seated sessions, or a walking session followed by a seated one, were also compared. The walking or sitting sessions used to measure creativity lasted anywhere from 5 to 16 minutes, depending on the tasks being tested.

Three of the experiments relied on a “divergent thinking” creativity test. Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. In these experiments, participants had to think of alternate uses for a given object. They were given several sets of three objects and had four minutes to come up with as many responses as possible for each set. A response was considered novel if no other participant in the group used it. Researchers also gauged whether a response was appropriate. For example, a “tire” could not be used as a pinkie ring.

The overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking than sitting, the study found. In one of those experiments, participants were tested indoors – first while sitting, then while walking on a treadmill. The creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when the person was walking, according to the study.

A fourth experiment evaluated creative output by measuring people’s abilities to generate complex analogies to prompt phrases. The most creative responses were those that captured the deep structure of the prompt. For example, for the prompt “a robbed safe,” a response of “a soldier suffering from PTSD” captures the sense of loss, violation and dysfunction. “An empty wallet” does not.

The result: 100 percent of those who walked outside were able to generate at least one high-quality, novel analogy compared to 50 percent of those seated inside.

No link to focused thinking

But not all thought processes are equal. While the study showed that walking benefited creative brainstorming, it did not have a positive effect on the kind of focused thinking required for single, correct answers.

“This isn’t to say that every task at work should be done while simultaneously walking, but those that require a fresh perspective or new ideas would benefit from it,” said Oppezzo, now an adjunct faculty member at Santa Clara University.

Researchers gave participants a word-association task, commonly used to measure insight and focused thinking. Given three words, participants had to generate the one word that could be used with all three to form compound words. For instance, given the words “cottage, Swiss and cake,” the correct answer is “cheese.”

In this test, those who responded while walking performed mildly worse than those who responded while sitting, according to the study.

Productive creativity involves a series of steps – from idea generation to execution – and the research, Oppezzo said, demonstrated that the benefits of walking applied to the “divergent” element of creative thinking, but not to the more “convergent” or focused thinking characteristic of insight.

“We’re not saying walking can turn you into Michelangelo,” Oppezzo said. “But it could help you at the beginning stages of creativity.”

The study’s strong findings will have legs, leading to further research on the neurological and physiological pathways, Schwartz predicts.

“There’s work to be done to find out the causal mechanisms,” Schwartz said. “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.”

One possible future research issue: Is it walking per se or do other forms of mild physical activity have similar elevating effects?

In the meantime, “we already know that physical activity is important and sitting too often is unhealthy. This study is another justification for integrating bouts of physical activity into the day, whether it’s recess at school or turning a meeting at work into a walking one,” Oppezzo said. “We’d be healthier, and maybe more innovative for it.”

May Wong is a freelance writer.

Why Do Old People Get So Hairy?

Scientists explain what causes hair to grow everywhere but the head as we age…  I saw this amazing article this afternoon by Alissa Zhu, had to re-publish it…

You’ve seen it at the local pool, at the beach, or even on your own grandpa. Old grizzled men with enough back hair to knit an afghan. Rampant tufts of hair springing out of dark nasal and ear cavities and eyebrows that look Cro-Magnon. What causes hair to grow everywhere but the head as we age?

why are old men so hairyScientists don’t exactly know what causes hair to sprout excessively from places like the ears and nostrils but Dr. David Liebovitz, an associate professor of Medicine at Northwestern University, guesses that it has to do with hormones and the lifecycle of hair.

Hairs grow in three stages: anagen, catagen and telogen. First, hair cells grow and divide in the anagen phase. Head hair naturally remains in the anagen phase for an extended period of time, up to several years. Hair on your arms, however, will move on to the catagen phase in a matter of weeks. This is when the hair stops growing and transitions to the dormant telogen phase. The hair stops lengthening and eventually falls out naturally through shedding or external trauma such as pulling.

Liebovitz says some types of hair develop anagen sensitivity as we grow older. The long term exposure of hair follicles to hormones such as testosterone will disrupt and lengthen their growing period. That’s why nose, ear, and eyebrow hair can reach troll-doll proportions without regular trimming as we age.

Hair growth can be extremely sensitive to male hormones, according to Dr. Sarah Baker, an instructor of Dermatology at Northwestern University. “Testosterone is produced in hair follicles and different areas of hair on the body respond to testosterone differently,” Baker says. According to Baker, testosterone causes hair to grow in the beard, pubic, and underarm area, and it causes hair to shrink on the scalp, which develops into hair loss or hair thinning.

According to Dr. Liang Ma, a professor of Dermatology at Washington University at St. Louis, there’s no evidence backing up the idea that older people become excessively hairy. Body hair type and density vary across different ethnicities: “Asians have almost no body hair. Black people have curly hair and Asians have straight hair. Some isoforms in the structural form of the hair differs between ethnic groups that cause varying appearances.”

If your grandpa needs a remedy for his hairy situation, he has plenty of options. Razors, waxes and laser hair removal are all resources for those who don’t want to rock the Chewbacca look.

Take another look at yourselves America…

Yet another week passes where the American Senate (their upper house) loses the will to live, actually the will to stand up to the gun lobby…  And yet another week passes where some kid takes a gun and slaughters innocent people. Great week not to be known as an American…  Interesting to watch the Boston Police take credit for such great police work in grabbing the 19 year old kid last night…

Success? Hardly…  So they search all the homes in the middle class working town of Watertown, and after they are done searching the very neighbourhood where the kid is holed up, they declare it safe.  Then a few minutes later some guy walks outside and notices the trail of blood going down his drive to his boat in the back garden, where he lifts the lid on the boat and finds the poor bleeding kid in his boat. And then, even with all the firepower on show this still precipitates a 1 hour shootout to get him in…  So, how did the Boston Police miss this???  What we have seen on the news in the last 48 hours in Boston is more firepower than most countries, and for what? To be outgunned by a couple of untrained amateur teenage terrorists???

So, these two kids blow up a bunch of people right in the open at the Boston Marathon with no attempt to hide themselves, drive openly around the Boston area, rob a store, kill another cop at MIT, get in a high speed chase, chuck live bombs at the pursuing officers, and still  the 19 year old gets away???  As Janet said to me this morning, where was Jack Bauer???  Out of the thousands of cops and their hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, where was the one guy who might have done something?  Oh that’s right, he was busy lobbying to stop any gun control in the US.  I just want to ask my countrymen: don’t you get it?  The King has no clothes…

Could we find even one American Senator who has any balls whatsoever?  At the entrance to the Senate they don’t need to bother with a metal detector, they need a scrotum checker…  No balls, no go…