A new study from Stanford University researchers now provides more than just anecdotal evidence that walking meetings can help get your creative juices flowing.
Creative output during walks can increase as much as 60 percent, according to the findings. Marily Oppezzo, now an adjunct faculty member at Santa Clara University and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, performed a series of experiments involving 176 college students and adults, Stanford News reported.
The participants were asked to take part in a "divergent thinking" test, a method commonly used to measure creative insight. Divergent thinking involves brainstorming alternate uses for given objects. The participants, some who walked and some who sat, had four minutes to come up with as many responses as possible for a set of objects. Then Oppezzo and Schwartz judged the individuals on how novel, as well as plausible, their ideas were.
The overwhelming majority of of those who walked demonstrated more creativity compared with those who sat. Interestingly, the researchers found very little difference between those who walked indoors on a treadmill and those who walked outside. Both types of walkers were more creative than those who sat.
But wait. Before you go relocating all of your afternoon meetings, note that one downside emerged from the experiments. The authors found that walking while brainstorming might actually inhibit focus.
To measure this, researchers had participants perform a word association game. They were given three words and then asked to find the one word that formed a compound word with all three. For example, "cottage, Swiss and cake." The right answer is "cheese." This test showed that those who walked performed slightly worse than those who sat.
Oppezzo suggested that the results show that you might want to mix it up during various stages of your thought process. For example, in the early stage of an idea, you can take a walk. But when it comes time to focus, head back to your desk.
"There's work to be done to find out the causal mechanisms," Schwartz added. "And this is a very robust paradigm that will allow people to begin manipulations, so they can track down how the body is influencing the mind."