Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Taking a walk may lead to more creativity than sitting, study finds


Free-flowing thought more likely while walking indoors or outdoors, research reveals

When the task at hand requires some imagination, taking a walk may lead to more creative thinking than sitting, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

"Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking," said Marily Oppezzo, PhD, of Santa Clara University. "With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why."

While at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, Oppezzo and colleague Daniel L. Schwartz, PhD, conducted studies involving 176 people, mostly college students. They found that those who walked instead of sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair consistently gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking, such as thinking of alternate uses for common objects and coming up with original analogies to capture complex ideas. When asked to solve problems with a single answer, however, the walkers fell slightly behind those who responded while sitting, according to the study published in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

While previous research has shown that regular aerobic exercise may protect cognitive abilities, these researchers examined whether simply walking could temporarily improve some types of thinking, such as free-flowing thought compared to focused concentration. "Asking someone to take a 30-minute run to improve creativity at work would be an unpopular prescription for many people," Schwartz said. "We wanted to see if a simple walk might lead to more free-flowing thoughts and more creativity."

Of the students tested for creativity while walking, 100 percent came up with more creative ideas in one experiment, while 95 percent, 88 percent and 81 percent of the walker groups in the other experiments had more creative responses compared with when they were sitting. If a response was unique among all responses from the group, it was considered novel. Researchers also gauged a participant's total number of responses and whether a response was feasible and appropriate to the constraints of the task. For example, "Putting lighter fluid in soup is novel, but it is not very appropriate," Oppezzo said.

In one experiment with 48 participants, each student sat alone in a small room at a desk facing a blank wall. When a researcher named an object, the student came up with alternative ways to use the object. For example, for the word "button," a person might say "as a doorknob on a dollhouse." The students heard two sets of three words and had four minutes per set to come up with as many responses as possible. To see how walking might affect more restricted thinking, the researchers also had the students complete a word association task with 15 three-word groups, such as "cottage-Swiss-cake," for which the correct answer is "cheese." Participants repeated both tasks with different sets of words first while sitting and then while walking at a comfortable pace on a treadmill facing a blank wall in the same room.

With a different group of 48 students, some sat for two different sets of the tests, some walked during two sets of the test and some walked and then sat for the tests. "This confirmed that the effect of walking during the second test set was not due to practice," Oppezzo said. "Participants came up with fewer novel ideas when they sat for the second test set after walking during the first. However, they did perform better than the participants who sat for both sets of tests, so there was a residual effect of walking on creativity when people sat down afterward. Walking before a meeting that requires innovation may still be nearly as useful as walking during the meeting."

Students who walked in another experiment doubled their number of novel responses compared with when they were sitting. The 40 students in this experiment were divided into three groups: One sat for two sets of tests but moved to separate rooms for each set; another sat and then walked on a treadmill; and one group walked outdoors along a predetermined path.

To see if walking was the source of creative inspiration rather than being outdoors, another experiment with 40 participants compared responses of students walking outside or inside on a treadmill with the responses of students being pushed in a wheelchair outside and sitting inside. Again, the students who walked, whether indoors or outside, came up with more creative responses than those either sitting inside or being pushed in a wheelchair outdoors. "While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity," said Oppezzo.

More research will be necessary to explain how walking improves creativity, the authors said. They speculated that future studies would likely determine a complex pathway that extends from the physical act of walking to physiological changes to the cognitive control of imagination.

"Incorporating physical activity into our lives is not only beneficial for our hearts but our brains as well. This research suggests an easy and productive way to weave it into certain work activities," Oppezzo said.


Funding for the study was provided by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and a Stanford Graduate School of Education Dissertation Support Grant.

Article: "Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking," Marily Oppezzo, PhD, Santa Clara University, and Daniel L. Schwartz, PhD, Stanford University, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, published online April 2014.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at

Contact: Marily Oppezzo at or (408) 314-2629.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 130,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

If you do not want to receive APA news releases, please let us know at or 202-336-5700.

Lisa Bowen | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: APA Cognition Education Learning cognitive creativity responses treadmill walk

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s
26.11.2015 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

nachricht Network analysis shows systemic risk in mineral markets
16.11.2015 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>