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Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings


Nature immersion enhances creative thinking and problem solving in adults

It is well known that human development is influenced by the environment. This study sought to empirically test the specific hypothesis that “complex cognition is facilitated by prolonged exposure to natural settings and the parallel release from technology immersion.”

Outward Bound wilderness expeditions offered the venue for the study, which had a participant population of fifty-six adults. Study participants each participated in one of eight different expeditions involving backpacking in the wilderness for four to six days without any electronic devices. The hiking locations were widely varied (Alaska to Maine) and there was no communication between the different groups.  Expedition groups were randomly assigned to complete a widely used test of higher order cognitive tasks that measures creative thinking and problem solving on either the morning before they began their trip or on the fourth day of their trip. A between-participant ANOVA was utilized to analyze the results of the test.

The group that completed the test after four days of exposure to nature had a 50% increase in performance, bringing “a wide range of cognitive resources to bear when asked to engage in a task that requires creativity and complex convergent problem solving.”

This result suggests that higher-order cognitive skills are enhanced by sustained exposure to the natural environment.  This study is believed to be the first to empirically document the positive impact of nature immersion on higher-level cognitive function. The authors offer a variety of suggestions for additional research.  They place their research findings in the context of a changing society in which people of all ages are immersed in use of technologies and observe, “The current research establishes that there are cognitive costs associated with constant exposure to a technology-rich, suburban or urban environment, as contrasted with exposure to the natural environment that we experience when we are immersed in nature.”



Atchley, R.A., Strayer, D.L., Atchley, P., (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLOS ONE, 7(12), 1-5.


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