Could disconnecting from electronics and enjoying Mother Nature be the secret to more creative thinking?
Want to get smarter fast? According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, a key to creativity, which most of us would agree is an important part of intelligence, is simply to spend a few days hiking in the great outdoors.
Go Hiking, Get Smarter
In this study, researchers took 56 people (average age 28) and gave them a word-association test with questions like, “Can you find the common link among these words: SMART, CHARMING, DOCTOR?” (The answer is at the end of this article, by the way.)
Half the group took the test on the morning before setting out on a multi-day wilderness hike where no electronic gadgets were allowed. The others took the test four days into the hike, and according to the researchers, people who’d been backpacking for four days did significantly better on the tests than people who were just setting out.
Time Outdoors Relaxes the Brain
The researchers claim this is because a visit to nature where gadgets are verboten allows “the brain to relax” in two key ways.
One, without electronic disturbances, we don’t focus any attention on that plethora of uninterrupted incoming useless messages and intrusive music and news we are constantly subject to in our normal lives.
And two, on a wilderness hike, our brains are not accosted by other uninvited but unavoidable attention disrupters endlessly served up by a typical city environment — sirens, screeching cars, screaming kids, howling Canucks fans, etc. — or as the lead researcher said (he’d be a cinch for a job in a Kitsilano yoga studio): “Disconnecting from media technology allows people to stay in the now, and nature can do the rest.”
Problems with the Study
It’s certainly possible that the interpretation of the results was faulty or biased and reflects reality about as much as the Republican Party’s polling before the recent presidential election. After all, this tiny study was done under the auspices of that well-known outdoor-promoting organization, Outward Bound, not to mention that the researchers didn’t control for key variables such as diet, the amount of effort involved in hiking, or pre-existing differences among the hikers.
But hey, even if you don’t get more creative on your next outdoor hike, it’s hard to see a downside to spending less time with electronic gadgets and more time with Ma Nature. Especially, I’d argue, for our kids and grandkids, most of whom spend far too much time harnessed to electronic gadgets and far too little time playing outdoors.
By the way, the answer to that earlier question: HISTER, of course.
Dr. Art Hister is a medical writer and health analyst for Global TV.