Research Matters

Research Matters

Nature Refreshes the Mind


A recent investigation showed that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.

Episode #110



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Transcript


Researchers find that time in the wild boosts human creativity, insight and problem solving. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I’m Brendan Lynch.  

A recent KU investigation showed that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature. Ruth Ann Atchley, associate professor and chair of psychology at KU, said the “soft fascination” of the natural world appears to refresh the human mind, offering refuge from the cacophony of modern life.

Atchely: We’ve got information coming at us from social media, electronics and cell phones. Constantly shift attention from one source to another; getting all of this information that simulates alarms, warnings and emergencies. Those threats are bad for us. They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of — things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood.

Atchley said that nature could stimulate the human mind without the often-menacing distractions of workaday life in the 21st-century.

Atchley: Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.

The KU researcher and her colleagues surveyed participants in nature expeditions run by Outward Bound. About 120 participants on outings in places like Alaska, Colorado and California completed a written assessment of cognition.

Atchley: We worked with a number of backpacking groups that were going out last summer. Four backpacker groups took the test before they hit the trail, and then four different groups did it on the fourth day just like we had done before. The data across age groups —regular folks from age 18 into their 60s — showed an almost 50 percent increase in creativity. It really worked in the sense that it was a well-used measure and we could see such a big difference in these two environments.

For more about how nature refreshes the mind, log on to Research Matters dot KU dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I’m Brendan Lynch.

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Researchers find time in wild boosts creativity, insight and problem solving


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