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Utah Research: Time Outdoors Can Make You a Better Thinker

PHOTO: A professor at the University of Utah says his research shows that spending time outdoors in nature and unplugged from technology can improve a person's creative thinking. CREDIT: Fred Hsu
PHOTO: A professor at the University of Utah says his research shows that spending time outdoors in nature and unplugged from technology can improve a person's creative thinking. CREDIT: Fred Hsu
April 22, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - As folks across the state celebrate Earth Day, research out of the University of Utah finds that some time in the great outdoors can improve a person's creativity and problem-solving ability. Professor David Strayer said those tested after four days immersed in nature with Outward Bound did dramatically better than people who took similar tests before heading out.

"We found a 50-percent improvement in the creativity scores. Disconnecting from our networked world and interacting in a natural setting seems to make measurable, significant improvements in the way in which we think, and can think creatively," he said.

Strayer explained that being outdoors improves one's thinking because unplugging from all of today's technologies takes the pressure off frontal brain regions that support functions like problem-solving and creativity.

"Juggling a lot of activities like we typically do in our daily urban life tends to overload those brain structures," he said. "When you get out into nature, you kind of let those areas restore. It's something called 'cognitive restoration.'"

On the heels of these findings, Stayer said that he plans to do more research into the connection between nature and improved creative thinking. One project will involve trying to find out how much time outside is needed to bring benefits.

"If you think about nature as having a beneficial dose - how much do you need to be able to get a real, measurable return on investment?" he asked. "Can an hour hiking in the forest result in real improvements, or do you have to go out for multiple days?"

The average American child spends more than seven hours in front of a television or computer screen each day, Strayer added, but only 15 to 25 minutes playing outside.

More information is available at http://www.plosone.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - UT