Study shows inspiration often "taken in stride"

Charles Darwin's Thinking Path: The naturalist spent much time here formulating his revolutionary ideas.
Charles Darwin's Thinking Path: The naturalist spent much time here formulating his revolutionary ideas.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that all "truly great thoughts" were conceived while taking them. Paleontologist Robert Bakker admitted that scientists needed them. Which is why Charles Darwin took them in the privacy of his own backyard. And scientists weren't the only ones who took them. Vincent van Gogh loved to take them when he wasn't painting wildly frenetic scenes on canvas, and composer Ludwig von Beethoven took them all the time - sometimes in his underwear!

What, you may ask, were they taking? Drugs? Magic elixirs? Naps?

Nope. None of these. They were all taking walks.

Through the centuries some of the world's greatest ideas came about during the physical act of taking a walk. Charles Darwin even had a special path called Sandwalk constructed adjacent to his Down House property and lined it with stones. It's where he mulled over his hypotheses about natural selection and evolution as he formulated his landmark book, On the Origin of Species. Many of Beethoven's symphonies (e.g The Pastoral Symphony) were inspired by a hike through the woods. Author Henry David Thoreau wrote an entire essay on the subject, particularly walking in the wild.

And now a new study done at Stanford University confirms the anecdotal notion that walking increases your chances of having... well, a notion - an idea or epiphany or some sort of creative breakthrough. According to the Stanford researchers, It didn't matter whether the participants were walking outdoors or inside on a treadmill - it seems the act of waking itself elevated levels of creativity. The effect lasted several minutes after participants stopped walking.

Nearly 180 participants were tested using different combinations of sitting and walking. Subjects were moved around in wheelchairs during the outside sitting segments.

These sessions were followed by four experiments used to test levels creativity, each lasting 5 to 16 minutes depending on the task. Across all tests, the majority of subjects did surprisingly better after walking than sitting. On average, participants who had walked showed a 60 percent improvement over those sitting.

Whether it's specifically the act of walking that raises creativity or if any kind of exercise would produce the same results is the subject for future studies, and could even diminish one of my favorite quotes from humorist Mark Twain: "Golf is a good walk spoiled."

The current study was co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and professor Daniel Schwartz, of Stanford Graduate School of Education, and appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Stanford news story
APA press release

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