Now here’s something interesting, and counterintuitive and ultimately inconclusive. According to an article by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times, researchers at Stanford have been studying the connection between walking and creativity. Most of us walkers would think the connection is straightforward and obvious – but wait …
Stanford undergraduates (admittedly not exactly a random sample of humanity) were taken to a plain room where there was just a desk and a treadmill and there they were given creativity tests, which Reynolds writes, “in psychological circles might involve tasks like rapidly coming up with alternative uses for common objects, such as a button.”
Having taken the tests the students hit the treadmill, walking at a pace they were comfortable with, and they were tested again, while walking. The tests took about 8 minutes to complete.
Most of the students did much better on the tests while walking on the treadmill and “were able to generate about 60 percent more uses for an object.” You might argue that coming up with novel uses for an object isn’t precisely the same thing as writing Ulysses, but let’s accept the premise. Now it gets interesting.
The researchers subsequently let the students go for a walk in the wide open spaces of the Stanford campus, and of course you might assume that this green and pleasant environment would stimulate the senses and lead to even greater creativity, but they found not. The increase in creativity was exactly the same whether walking on the campus or on the treadmill. So, you might conclude, it was simply the walking that caused the increase, that apparently it doesn’t matter where or how you walk.
But of course the next step is to wonder whether the experiment proves anything whatsoever about walking. Maybe it’s just about exercise. Maybe a stationary bike or running up a few flights of stairs would be just as useful in getting the creative juices flowing. Or was it something inherent in the treadmill?
Meanwhile there’s the above. The last time I was walking in Wonder Valley in the California desert I did my usual thing of poking around in desert ruins and I found a ruined house, and beside it this abandoned treadmill in the middle of nowhere.
Now I’m thinking it might be interesting to do some research on whether walking on a treadmill, but in the great outdoors, might be even more creatively stimulating. And what about walking on a treadmill while watching (or indeed smashing) a TV – what does THAT do for creativity? There’s never a Stanford researcher around when you need one.