Motion boosts creativity

Motion breeds creativity. But you knew that, right? We’ve heard quite a number of anecdotal tales of artists having some of their greatest moments of inspiration while being active, or having ideas finally “fit together” after getting away from the desk and just moving about — whether it be taking a shower or going for a walk or hitting the gym. And yes, I consider showering “movement,” especially when compared to sitting in a chair.

Some people who immediately come to my mind are the late Vince Flynn, who had said that the idea for his first thriller started to come together while out for a run; and Brandon Sanderson, who has talked about use of his home made “tread-desk” being less about physical fitness and more about his creative flow being better while moving. (Who needs a boring standing desk when you can have a tread-desk!) Also, Mel Brooks was hit with the title of Blazing Saddles while in the shower. Working titles had included Tex X: An Homage to Malcolm X and The Purple Sage, so I think we can all agree that Blazing Saddles is by far a more brilliant title.

Anecdotes are nice, but a recent study offered some concrete evidence that moving is helpful before doing something requiring creativity and, if possible, moving while engaged in a creative exercise is even better.

The following summary is from the American Psychological Association‘s magazine Monitor on Psychology Jul/Aug 2014 issue (page 23 – digital edition of the issue HERE):

Taking a walk may lead to more creative thinking than sitting, according to research at Stanford University. In one of several experiments, 48 college students sat alone in a small room at a desk facing a blank wall. When a researcher named an object, the student was asked to name 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 several sets of words and were asked to name as many responses as possible. The participants then repeated the task with different words while walking on a treadmill facing a blank wall in the same room. They found that the students gave more creative responses when walking than when sitting.

I’ve been meaning to get a treadmill. Guess I’d better make myself a tread-desk.

Study published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, online April 21.

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