Researchers find time in wild boosts creativity, insight and problem solving

April 24, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- There’s new evidence that our minds thrive away from it all.

Research conducted at the University of Kansas concludes that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.

Ruth Ann Atchley, whose research is featured in this month’s Backpacker magazine, said the “soft fascination” of the natural world appears to refresh the human mind, offering refuge from the cacophony of modern life.

“We’ve got information coming at us from social media, electronics and cell phones,” said Atchley, associate professor and chair of psychology at KU. “We constantly shift attention from one source to another, getting all of this information that simulates alarms, warnings and emergencies. Those threats are bad for us. They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of — things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood.”

The researcher said that nature could stimulate the human mind without the often-menacing distractions of workaday life in the 21st-century.

“Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses,” said Atchley. “Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.”

Atchley led a team that conducted initial research on a backpacking trip in Utah with the Remote Associates Test, a word-association exercise used for decades by psychologists to gauge creative intelligence. Her fellow researchers included Paul Atchley, associate professor of at KU, and David Strayer, professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah.

Intrigued by positive results, the researchers partnered with Outward Bound, the Golden, Colo.-based nonprofit that leads educational expeditions into nature for people of many backgrounds. About 120 participants on outings in places like Alaska, Colorado and California completed the “RAT” test.

“We worked with a number of backpacking groups that were going out last summer,” Ruth Ann Atchley said. “Four backpacker groups took the test before they hit the trail, and then four different groups did it on the fourth day just like we had done before. The data across age groups —regular folks from age 18 into their 60s — showed an almost 50 percent increase in . It really worked in the sense that it was a well-used measure and we could see such a big difference in these two environments.”

Best of all, she said that the benefits of nature belong to anyone who delves completely into wilderness for an amount of time equivalent to a long weekend.

“There’s growing advantage over time to being in nature,” said Ruth Ann Atchley. “We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cell phone, not hauling the iPad and not looking for internet coverage. It’s when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works.”

Explore further: Is there a hidden bias against creativity?

Related Stories

Is there a hidden bias against creativity?

November 18, 2011
CEOs, teachers, and leaders claim they want creative ideas to solve problems. But creative ideas are rejected all the time. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of ...

To 'think outside the box', think outside the box

January 19, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Want to think outside the box? Try actually thinking outside of a box. In a study to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, ...

A study looks at the nature of change in our aging, changing brains

November 23, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- As we get older, our cognitive abilities change, improving when we’re younger and declining as we age. Scientists posit a hierarchical structure within which these abilities are organized. There’s ...

Are we bad at forecasting our emotions? It depends on how you measure accuracy

January 26, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- How will you feel if you fail that test? Awful, really awful, you say. Then you fail the test and, yes, you feel bad—but not as bad as you thought you would. This pattern holds for most people, research ...

How your brain reacts to mistakes depends on your mindset

September 30, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- “Whether you think you can or think you can't -- you're right,” said Henry Ford. A new study, to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological ...

Psychologists discover we've been underestimating the unconscious mind

May 12, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- What does consciousness do? Theories vary, but most neurologists and cognitive psychologists agree that we need awareness for integration. That is, unconscious processing can take in one object or word ...

Recommended for you

Talking to yourself can help you control stressful emotions

July 26, 2017
The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people ...

Heart rate study tests emotional impact of Shakespeare

July 26, 2017
In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is turning to science to discover whether the playwright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on.

Do all people experience similar near-death-experiences?

July 26, 2017
No one really knows what happens when we die, but many people have stories to tell about what they experienced while being close to death. People who have had a near-death-experience usually report very rich and detailed ...

Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.