To test natural immersion and deceleration could benefits to higher level functions, Ruth Atchley, David Strayer and Paul Atchley of the Universities of Kansas and Utah set out to empirically test if Creative Reasoning could be improved through simply walking through nature and the outdoors.
Fifty-six unrelated and unconnected adult men and women, with an average age of 28, took part in Outward Bound adventures the team had organised for them. Roughly half of them made their way to the US States of Alaska, Colorado or Maine in small groups to embark on four to six day guided hikes, during which they were prohibited from using any technological devices. This first group completed a Remote Associates Test (RAT) on the morning before they embarked on their hikes. The second half of the cohort completed theirs on day four of their hikes in Alaska, Colorado or Washington.
Developed by Professor Sarnoff Mednick and Martha T. Mednick in the early seventies, RAT is widely accepted as a standard measure of creative thinking and insight-based problem solving. A RAT test involves respondents being used with sets of three unrelated words e.g. Widow/Bite/Monkey, Same/Tennis/Head, or Bald/Screech/Emblem from which they are tasked with finding another word associated with each of them in some meaningful way. The test is thought to test the parts of the brain that are supposedly the ones overtaxed by our modern, sedentary, technological intense working environments.
Whether in the pre or in-hike test groups, the hikers were given unlimited amount of time to independently complete a set of ten RAT items.
And the results? The participants, having spent four days immersed in nature, hiking and disconnected from technology, displayed increased performance in creative, problem-solving activities in these tests by a staggering 50%. This compelling study shows the enormous cognitive advantages available to those who take time out in nature and away from current work environments and distractions. In any business context, an 50% increase in ‘productivity’ or ‘efficiency’ would have executives and leaders scrambling to implement radical change to their organisations.
Atchley RA, Strayer DL, Atchley P (2012) Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474