Backpackers who spent time in nature without electronic gadgets showed better scores on creativity tests, U.S. researchers have found.
As part of a study, 30 men and 26 women participated in a four-to six-day wilderness hiking trips. No electronic devices like cellphones or tablets were allowed.
People who had been backpacking four days got an average of 6.08 of the 10 questions testing creativity and problem solving compared with an average score of 4.14 for people who had not yet started the trip.
"Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting," David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, and his co-authors said in this week's issue of the journal PLOS One, published by the Public Library of Science.
The researchers point out that our modern society is filled with sudden events like sirens, horns, ringing phones that hijack attention. By contrast, natural environments are associated with a gentle, soft fascination that seems to allow our executive attention — the ability to switch among tasks, stay on task and inhibit distracting actions and thoughts — to replenish.
While the study wasn't able to distinguish if the effects were thanks to greater time in nature or less tapping on gadgets, the study's authors said that in practical terms, the two factors are so interrelated that they could be considered two sides of the same coin.
The researchers noted that earlier studies suggested that children today spend only 15 to 25 minutes daily in outdoor play and sports and that nature-based recreation has declined for 30 years in the U.S.