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Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking
on Creative Thinking
Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz
Stanford University
Four experiments demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. In
Experiment 1, while seated and then when walking on a treadmill, adults completed Guilford’s alternate
uses (GAU) test of creative divergent thinking and the compound remote associates (CRA) test of
convergent thinking. Walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity on the GAU, but only increased
23% of participants’ scores for the CRA. In Experiment 2, participants completed the GAU when seated
and then walking, when walking and then seated, or when seated twice. Again, walking led to higher
GAU scores. Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost.
Experiment 3 generalized the prior effects to outdoor walking. Experiment 4 tested the effect of walking
on creative analogy generation. Participants sat inside, walked on a treadmill inside, walked outside, or
were rolled outside in a wheelchair. Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality
analogies. The effects of outdoor stimulation and walking were separable. Walking opens up the free flow
of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical
Keywords: creativity, embodied cognition, exercise
People have noted that walking seems to have a special relation
to creativity. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1889) wrote,
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” (Aphorism
34). The current research puts such observations on solid footing.
Four studies demonstrate that walking increases creative ideation.
The effect is not simply due to the increased perceptual stimulation
of moving through an environment, but rather it is due to walking.
Whether one is outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the
generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even
extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly
The Mind–Body Connection
Prior research has documented several ways that physical ac-
tivity can influence cognition. These include studies that have
shown global protective effects of exercise against cognitive de-
cline (e.g., Kramer, Erickson, & Colcombe, 2006), the “embodied”
dependency of semantic concepts on physical activity (e.g.,
Klatzky, Pellegrino, McCloskey, & Doherty, 1989), and the com-
petition of physical and mental activity for shared attentional
resources (e.g., Li, Lindenberger, Freund, & Baltes, 2001). As we
show later, these literatures do not explain the creativity effect
demonstrated here. More relevant is research that examines how
physical activity selectively enhances specific cognitive processes.
Studies on selective cognitive effects of physical activity have
largely focused on aerobic activity (running), rather than mild
activity (walking) or anaerobic activity (sprinting). For example,
aerobic activity appears to increase the speed of concurrent cog-
nition (Brisswalter, Collardeau, & Rene, 2002; Fontana, Maz-
zardo, Mokgothu, Furtado, & Gallaher, 2009; Tomoporowski,
2003). Researchers have also investigated short-term residual ef-
fects of aerobic exercise (e.g., Kubesch et al., 2003). In their
meta-analysis, Lambourne and Tomporowski (2010) found a small
improvement in memory performance following acute exercise.
Within this literature, there is also a hint that exercise could have
positive effects on creativity.
Gondola (1986, 1987) found gains in participants’ ideational
fluency after aerobic running or dancing, and Netz, Tomer, Axel-
rad, Argov, and Inbar (2007) found similar results for aerobic
walking, regardless of participants’ fitness history. Steinberg et al.
(1997) measured people’s flexibility in generating unusual uses for
common objects after they had participated in aerobic exercise or
slow rhythmic stretching. Both activities led to greater flexibility
compared with watching a 20-min video on rock formations. Unfor-
This article was published Online First April 21, 2014.
Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, Graduate School of Education,
Stanford University.
This work has been supported by grants from the Knut and Alice
Wallenberg Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and by
the Stanford Graduate School of Education Dissertation Support Grant.
The findings and opinions expressed in this work do not necessarily reflect
those of the granting agencies. The authors thank the members of AAAL-
ab.Stanford.Edu for all their help in all phases of the work. The authors are
grateful for the suggestions of Jeremy Bailenson, Bill Haskell, John Wil-
linsky, and Scott Klemmer.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marily
Oppezzo, Wallenberg Hall, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford University, Stanford,
CA 94305. E-mail:
Journal of Experimental Psychology:
Learning, Memory, and Cognition
© 2014 American Psychological Association
2014, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1142–1152
tunately, the authors of this study did not determine whether physical
activity facilitates ideation or a geology video suppresses it.
These creativity effects occurred after sustained periods of ex-
ercise, often aerobic. Asking people to take a 30-min run to
improve their subsequent seated creativity would be an unhappy
prescription for many people. Thus, the current research examined
the more practical strategy of taking a short walk. In the General
Discussion, we consider possible mechanisms by which the cre-
ativity effect takes hold.
Creativity Training
Early research investigated the traits of creative people (Barron,
1955; Feist, 1998). More recently, research has emphasized in-
creasing creativity (Amabile, 1996, Scott, Leritz, & Mumford,
2004). Creativity has a number of positive benefits (Plucker,
Beghetto, & Dow, 2004), so there are reasons to increase it.
Creativity is implicated in workplace success (Tierney, Farmer, &
Graen, 1999; Torrance, 1972, 1981), healthy psychological func-
tioning (Davis, 1989; Kin & Pope, 1999; McCracken, 1991; Russ,
1998; Terr, 1992), and the maintenance of loving relationships
(Livingston, 1999). Of course, creativity is also valued for its
potential contributions to society.
Attempts to improve individual creativity often involve training
people in the steps of creativity including shifting perspective
(Kozbelt, Beghetto, & Runco, 2010), trying something counterin-
tuitive (Amabile, 1983), or, in the most direct fashion possible,
simply trying to “be more creative” (Christensen, Guilford, &
Wilson, 1957). While effective, these depend on diligence and the
direct, perhaps effortful, manipulation of one’s creative processes.
Rather than trying to improve people’s command of the creative
process, we simply had people walk at a natural pace. If successful,
it is an easily adopted (and healthy) approach for enhancing
creative output.
Across nearly every discipline, there are discussions of what
counts as creativity. We adopt an operational definition of creativ-
ity as the production of appropriate novelty. Creative ideas are not
only relatively novel; they are also appropriate to the context or
topic (e.g., lighter fluid is a novel ingredient for soup, but inap-
The achievement of creativity, whether grand or in small every-
day moments, includes many facets and processes. In nearly all
cases, a key component is the initial generation of novel and
appropriate ideas, which may be subsequently refined. The current
research employed two widely accepted creativity tasks that focus
on the ideational component of creativity, Guilford’s alternate uses
test (Guilford, 1960) and Barron’s symbolic equivalence test (Bar-
ron, 1963).
Experiment 1
In the first study, people completed a divergent creativity task—
first when sitting and then when walking on a treadmill. To
determine whether walking had a selective effect on creative
ideation, as opposed to cognition in general, we also asked the
participants to complete a convergent thinking task when sitting
and walking.
To evaluate divergent creative output, participants completed
Guilford’s alternate uses test (GAU). Given 4 min, people gener-
ated alternate uses for common objects such as a button or tire.
GAU depends on cognitive flexibility (Benedek, Konen, & Neu-
bauer, 2012), so that people can avoid locking into a single
category of uses. For example, in the following study, one person
heard “button” and generated “as a doorknob for a dollhouse, an
eye for a doll, a tiny strainer, to drop behind you to keep your
path.” The GAU has exhibited various forms of validity (Gibson,
Folley & Park, 2009; Harrington, Block, & Block, 1983; Stimson,
1968), and it has been used to assess the success of creativity
training (Renner & Renner, 1971).
Guilford (1967) argued that divergent thinking is distinct from
convergent thinking. The compound remote-association test
(CRA), created by Bowden and Jung-Beeman (2003) and based on
the remote-association test by Mednick, Mednick, and Mednick
(1964), is a widely adopted measure of convergent thinking. Peo-
ple need to produce a single word that combines with each of three
words. Given the words “cottage—Swiss—cake,” the answer is
“cheese.” The CRA has been used for many purposes but mostly
for investigating insight (Kounios & Beeman, 2009), and the
variables that might affect insight (e.g., social stress; Alexander,
Hillier, Smith, Tivarus, & Beversdorf, 2007).
The distinction between the free-flowing divergent thinking of
GAU and the tight constraint satisfaction of CRA creates good
companion measures. Combined, they can be used to determine
whether walking has global effects on cognition or whether it is
selective to one type of thinking over another. Moreover, creativity
writ large depends on both appropriate novelty and insight, so
there is practical value in knowing which aspects of creativity
walking influences.
Participants. Undergraduate psychology students (N 48)
were drawn equally from a community college and a private
university. All students received course credit.
Design and procedure. A within-subject research design
compared the effects of movement (sitting vs. walking) on cogni-
tive task (GAU vs. CRA). Participants completed the procedure
individually in a small room with a chair and desk facing a blank
wall and a treadmill facing a blank wall. Participants spoke their
responses, which were audio recorded.
Participants first completed the seated condition. After receiving
task instructions, they heard three words and had 4 min to generate
as many alternate uses as possible. If they stopped early, they were
encouraged to continue. They then repeated the process with three
new words.
Next, they completed the CRA task. They received 16 triads,
with 15 s per triad. The CRA task always followed the GAU task,
because pilot work indicated that the CRA could be demoralizing,
which interfered with performance on an immediately following
GAU task.
Participants then moved to the treadmill. They found a comfort-
able, self-selected walking pace. They completed a new GAU and
CRA. The GAU and CRA used two forms, counterbalanced across
Coding. GAU responses passed through a series of increas-
ingly restrictive coding filters. The first pass coded ideation—the
total number of generated uses. The second pass coded appropri-
ate uses per GAU’s criteria: specific, different from the given
common use, feasible, and nonrepetitive. Given the prompt “tire,”
a nonspecific response is “to use the parts,” a common use is “as
a wheel on a car,” and an infeasible use is “as a pinkie ring.” If a
person stated the same use across the experiment, only the first use
counted. A primary coder scored all responses, and a secondary
coder scored a 20% subset exhibiting agreement of r .73. The
final filter coded novelty, operationalized as unique within the
sample of participants. If two or more people gave the same use for
a specific object, the response did not count as novel for either.
This final filter determined appropriate novelty, which is our
operationalization of creativity.
For the CRA, participants could receive a maximum score of 16
for each form. Participants received a point for each answer that
matched those provided with the CRA test.
Figure 1 indicates that walking improved performance on GAU
but mildly hurt performance on CRA. Among the 48 participants,
81% improved their creative output when walking, and only 23%
improved on the CRA when walking. To test the effects, we
collapsed across the alternate forms of the GAU and CRA. (For
both measures, the alternate forms exhibited no appreciable dif-
ferences, ps .5.) A within-subject analysis of variance crossed
the cognitive task (GAU vs. CRA) with movement (sitting vs.
walking). There is a main effect of cognitive task, F(1, 47)
19.50, p .001; a main effect of movement, F(1, 47) 19.69, p
.001; and importantly, an interaction of cognitive task by move-
ment, F(1, 47) 60.31, p .001. When taking the measures in
isolation, walking significantly decreased the number of correct
responses for CRA, t(47) ⫽⫺2.23, p .03, d 0.38, whereas
walking significantly increased the number of creative ideas for
GAU, t(47) 7.03, p .001, d 0.70.
If we ignore the criteria of appropriateness and nonrepetition, a
notable finding is that participants produced roughly 50% more
total ideas (good and bad uses) when walking (M 33.1, SD
10.22) than sitting (M 22.2, SD 12.20); t(47) 10.46, p
.001. Walking made people more loquacious. Walking however
did not increase creativity simply because people talked more. For
each participant, we divided the number of creative ideas (appro-
priate novel) by the total ideation to compute density scores. When
walking, people had a creative use for 3.0 out of every 10 gener-
ated uses (SD 1.1) compared with 2.5 out of every 10 uses
(SD 1.2) when sitting, t(47) 2.51, p .016. Thus, when
walking, people were more talkative, and more of their talk in-
cluded creative ideas.
Walking had a large effect on creativity. Most of the participants
benefited from walking compared with sitting, and the average
increase in creative output was around 60%. When walking, peo-
ple also generated more uses, good and bad. Simply talking more,
however, was not the sole mechanism for the increased creativity.
When walking, people generated more uses, and more of those
uses were novel and appropriate.
People did mildly worse on the CRA when walking than when
sitting. The selective positive and negative effects of walking
indicate that the creativity outcome is not due to the global facil-
itation of exercise as found in prior work. Physical (aerobic)
activity has been generally associated with broad protective out-
comes (Colcombe & Kramer, 2003; Cotman, Berchtold, & Chris-
tie, 2007; Erickson et al., 2011; Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer,
2008; Kramer et al., 2006; Lautenschlager et al., 2008). Gow et al.
(2012), for example, showed that physical exercise, rather than
intellectual leisure activities, may be the best way to prevent
age-related decline in brain functioning. While the long-term ef-
fects of aerobic activity may be general, the concurrent effects of
mild physical activity were selective to divergent thinking.
A methodological concern for the current study was that walk-
ing always came after sitting, so it was possible that people simply
improved at alternate uses with practice rather than because of
walking. If true, then people should demonstrate marked improve-
ment on the second administration of the GAU, whether they are
walking or not. The next study tested this possibility.
Experiment 2
Experiment 2 replicated the sit-then-walk condition from the
previous study (sit–tread). In a second condition, we asked people
to sit for both sessions to determine whether there are practice
effects (sit–sit). In a third condition, people walked first and then
sat (tread–sit) to permit a comparison of people who sat or walked
for the first session.
The tread–sit condition had the second purpose of allowing us to
evaluate the contribution of embodied cognition (e.g., Barsalou,
1999; Schwartz & Black, 1999). Embodied cognition occurs when
movements influence thought contents. For instance, moving one’s
hand forward facilitates thoughts about moving forward but inter-
feres with thoughts about moving backward (De Vega, Robertson,
Glenberg, Kaschak, & Rinck, 2004). Applying this to creativity,
walking might improve divergent thinking because walking trig-
gers thoughts of moving from one idea to another. In the tread–sit
condition, if people exhibited residual creativity effects when
seated, an embodied explanation becomes less plausible.
Figure 1. Effects of walking and sitting on divergent and convergent
thinking. Divergent thinking score is the number of appropriate novel
alternate uses on Guilford’s alternate uses (GAU) test. Convergent thinking
score is the number of correct responses on the compound remote-
association (CRA) test. Error bars are standard errors of the mean.
Participants. Forty-eight community college psychology stu-
dents were randomly assigned to three conditions. All students
received course credit.
Design and procedure. In the sit–sit condition, people sat for
both forms of the GAU. In sit–tread, people sat and then walked on
the treadmill. In tread–sit, participants walked on the treadmill and
then sat. The procedures were the same as before with two exceptions:
(a) there was no CRA, and (b) there was no encouragement to
continue generating until time expired. In these experiments, the
experimenter could not be blind to condition. We removed the en-
couragement to avoid possible subtle differences across treatments.
Figure 2 summarizes the main results. In the sit–tread condition,
walking again produced more creative ideas than sitting. In the
sit–sit condition, practice did not improve GAU performance. In
the tread–sit condition, people showed a marked advantage in
seated creative production compared with those who had not first
The following analyses consider appropriate novel responses.
(The pattern of results for total ideation, total appropriate re-
sponses, and density of novel responses were similar to the results
of Experiment 1.) We begin with a between-subject comparison of
sitting and walking. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA)
used only the Time 1 data. There was a significant effect of
condition, F(2, 45) 20.07, p .001. Planned comparisons
showed that the two sitting conditions did not differ, p .842, and
combined they generated fewer creative ideas than those walking
on the treadmill, p .001. Thus, the effect of walking held up in
a between-subjects design.
A separate ANOVA found a significant effect among the three
conditions at Time 2, F(2, 45) 7.86, p .001. The first planned
comparison demonstrated that sitting after walking (tread–sit) led
to significantly more creative uses than sitting after sitting (sit–sit),
p .001. The second comparison showed that sitting after walking
(tread–sit) was as good as walking after sitting (sit–tread), p
.975. This indicates short-term residual benefits of walking on
To simplify within-subject analyses, we take each condition
separately. Similar to participants in Experiment 1, 88% of the
participants in the sit–tread condition increased their number of
novel ideas when walking, t(15) 4.08, p .001. In the sit–sit
condition, participants decreased production from Time 1 to Time
2, t(15) ⫽⫺2.44, p .028. Practice, at least in the short run, does
not improve GAU performance. In the tread–sit condition, partic-
ipants decreased their production of novel ideas, t(15) 2.70, p
.016. People did worse when subsequently seated compared with
when they were walking, but the residual benefit of walking was
apparent when these participants were compared with those who
sat at both times.
Walking again increased people’s creative production on the
GAU. Practice cannot explain the effects. On their first try, people
who walked did better than those who sat, and those who only sat
did not improve across trials. Walking also exhibited a residual
effect on creativity. After people walked, their subsequent seated
creativity was much higher than those who had not walked.
This latter finding has practical and theoretical significance.
Practically, taking a walk immediately before a brainstorming
session should help improve one’s performance. Theoretically, the
effect of walking does not appear to result from a semantic
association between action and thought. People do not need to
move their legs at the same time as they generate alternate uses.
An issue with this experiment is that people who switched from
sitting to walking and vice versa changed their performance con-
text. The sit–sit participants, in contrast, sat at the same wall-facing
table, which may have suppressed performance at Time 2. In the
next study, we addressed this problem by having the sit–sit par-
ticipants switch rooms between sessions.
Experiment 3
A treadmill desk is not a popular option for most people.
Walking through an environment—for example, a mall, a building,
or outdoors—is more likely. To examine the practical reach of the
current findings, people walked outside in this study.
The outdoors can offer cognitive and emotional renewal. Atten-
tion restoration theory (ART) posits that walking in natural envi-
ronments invokes “soft fascination,” which does not require direct
attention and allows for the renewal of directed attention capaci-
ties. Berman, Jonides, and Kaplan (2008) found that compared
with an urban walk, a walk in nature restored people’s previously
exhausted attentional capacities, resulting in improved perfor-
mances at difficult tasks when no longer walking. There are also
additional calming effects (Hartig, Evans, Jamner, Davies, &
Garling, 2003).
ART studies have isolated the nature of the environment rather
than the impact of walking, and they have favored serene green
environments. In the current study, participants walked through a
busy, albeit lovely, university campus. The study did not compare
walking in different contexts, but it did code whether participants’
alternate uses referred to an outdoor or indoor context. By com-
paring the relative number of indoor and outdoor uses across
conditions, it is possible to assess the relative contribution of
outdoor stimulation.
Figure 2. Mean number of novel appropriate responses by time and
condition. Error bars are standard errors of the mean.
Experiment 3 filled out the partial factorial designs of Experi-
ments 1 and 2. For a sit–sit condition, we had participants switch
between rooms for each session to equate any effects of context
switching. A walk–sit condition determined if the residual effects
found in Experiment 2 would replicate. A sit–walk condition was
the third replication of the basic finding. Finally, a walk–walk
condition tested whether the benefits of walking attenuate over
Participants. Forty-nine university students began the exper-
iment, but nine were dropped prior to their data being examined
because they incurred acute outdoor distractions that interfered
with the time-sensitive GAU. These included the rapid onslaught
of fast-moving bikes, very large trucks without apparent mufflers,
and a participant answering his phone mid-test. Enrollment con-
tinued until reaching 40 participants.
Design and procedure. There were four conditions: sit–sit,
sit–walk, walk–sit, and walk–walk. The procedure differed from
Experiment 2 in two ways. First, people walked along a predeter-
mined path through a university campus. Second, after taking the
first GAU test, those in the sit–sit condition moved to a different
indoor room. Those in the walk–walk condition took a brief break
before continuing on the outdoor path.
Coding. Codes were similar to those in the first two experi-
ments, except for the addition of an alfresco code (Italian for
outdoors). Alfresco responses included applications that normally
occur outside (“frisbee”), implied an outdoor component (“to pop
a bike tire”), or explicitly mentioned the outdoors (“to pick up sand
at the beach”). Two coders achieved r .74 agreement on the
number of alfresco codes per transcript.
Figure 3 shows that the effects of walking are similar to the
effects in the previous studies, with the additional information that
the effect of walking does not attenuate over time.
To simplify the statistical analyses, we again begin with the
between-subjects Time 1 results. The combined walking treat-
ments doubled the number of novel responses compared with the
combined sitting treatments (8.7 vs. 4.3), t(38) 3.91, p .001.
This generalizes the treadmill walking effect to outdoor walking.
To examine the within-subject changes of treatment, we take
each condition in turn. Again, the sit–walk participants did much
better when walking. They increased their creative production
more than two-fold, t(9) 2.73, p .023, and 100% of the
participants increased their number of novel responses when walk-
ing. The sit–sit condition did not exhibit a change in creative
production from Time 1 to Time 2, t(9) 1.25, p .242.
Switching rooms did not make a difference. The walk–walk con-
dition yielded the same level of performance for both walking
periods, t(9) 0.690, p .507. Walking maintains its positive
effect, at least over 16 min.
The walk–sit condition replicated the residual effect found in
Experiment 2. When people sat after walking, they exhibited
nearly the same level of creative production as when they were
walking, t(9) ⫽⫺1.02, p .335. The strength of the residual
effect can be noted by comparing the walk–sit condition to the
walk–walk condition in a 2 (time) 2 (walk–sit vs. walk–walk)
repeated-measures analysis. There were no significant effects of
time, F(1, 18) 0.014, p .907; condition, F(1, 18) 0.58, p
.458; or Time Condition, F(1, 18) 1.40, p .253. Walking
once was just as good as walking for both sessions.
Does walking outdoors provide special stimulation for creativ-
ity? We restricted the analysis to Time 1, when participants had
only been indoors or outdoors so far. Walking outdoors led to more
alfresco uses than indoor sitting (M 2.6, SD 1.93, and M
0.7, SD 1.13, respectively) and more non-alfresco uses (M
6.2, SD 2.52, and M 3.6, SD
2.82). Thus, 30% of the total
uses were alfresco for outdoor walking compared with 16% for
sitting indoors. The difference, however, is not significant. In a
repeated-measures test, we compared use type (alfresco vs. non-
alfresco) by treatment (sitting vs. walking). There was a main
effect of more non-alfresco uses overall, F(1, 38) 59.77, p
.001, and a main effect of walking outside, F(1, 38) 15.84, p
.001. There was not a significant interaction of condition by use
type, F(1, 38) 0.693, p .410.
As before, walking—in this case, outside—led to improved
creative performance on the GAU. Also as before, walking left a
residue that produced strong performance when participants were
subsequently sitting. The effect of walking did not attenuate when
people walked twice.
The effect of being outdoors was inconclusive. Walking out-
doors descriptively increased the ratio of alfresco (outdoor) uses
compared with sitting indoors, but the effect was not significant. In
Experiment 4, we took an experimental approach to separate the
effects of moving outdoors from the effects of walking outdoors.
People walked outdoors, or they were pushed in a wheelchair
Experiment 4
Experiment 4 introduced two major changes. It employed a
different measure of creativity. It experimentally separated walk-
Figure 3. Mean appropriate novel responses by condition and time. Error
bars are standard errors of the mean.
ing from moving through an outdoor space. The new creativity
task was Barron’s symbolic equivalence task (BSE; Barron, 1963).
The BSE depends on the generation of analogies, which Gentner
(2002) has called, “the engine of creativity” (p. 37). People pro-
duce analogies to base statements (e.g., “a candle burning low”).
This requires abstracting the relational structure of the base state-
ment (a positive force extinguishing itself) and repopulating the
structure in a different domain (the last hand of a gambler’s last
game). The BSE is more complex than the GAU, which would
only require identifying a surface attribute (flame) and using it to
determine a use (to burn a moth). External validation of BSE
includes a correlation between BSE scores and a rank ordering of
participants’ professions, with famous writers at the top (Eysenck,
1995). Barron (1988) also found a positive correlation with an
individual’s BSE score and external criteria for creativity within
that person’s professional standing.
Experiment 4 separated the effect of moving through the out-
doors from the effect of physically walking. Participants com-
pleted one of four conditions. In a sitting outside condition
(SitOut), participants were pushed in a wheelchair along the same
university path as participants in a walking outside condition
(WalkOut). Thus, both groups of participants had the dynamic
flow of outdoor stimulation, but only one group walked. The study
also included an indoor treadmill condition (WalkIn) and a sitting
inside condition (SitIn).
Participants. Forty adults at a large private university were
recruited through e-mail and randomly assigned to condition.
Design and procedure. A between-subjects 2 (indoors vs.
dynamic outdoors) 2 (sitting vs. walking) design had the four
conditions of sitting inside (SitIn), walking on a treadmill inside
(WalkIn), sitting in a moving wheelchair outside (SitOut), and
walking outside (WalkOut).
After receiving task instructions, participants heard three
prompts: a robbed safe, a light bulb burning out, and a budding
cocoon. They had 5 min to generate analogies for all three. They
could re-request the prompts at any time. All responses were
Coding. Barron’s original scoring procedure depended on in-
tuitive judgments. We developed a more readily replicated coding
scheme based on Gentner (1983). Each statement was coded for
appropriateness, which was defined as being a legitimate analogy.
Abstractions and restatements did not qualify (e.g., given the
prompt of a robbed safe, inappropriate responses include “an
empty box” or “someone taking something out of a protected
space”). The appropriate analogies were coded for novelty, defined
as being unique within the corpus of the experiment.
The novel analogies were further coded for high quality, deter-
mined by three criteria: the level of detail found in the analogy
(vague, precise), the semantic proximity to the base statement
(near, far); and the relational mapping to the base statement (low,
high; see Gentner, 1983). Appendix A provides examples. High-
quality analogies are specific and semantically far, and retain a
high level of the base statements’ relational structure. On a random
subset of the total 587 statements, interreliabilities of two coders
were r 1.0 for detail level and r .98 for semantic distance. For
relational structure, we used Amabile’s (1996) consensual assess-
ment technique, where two judges, blind to condition discussed
each response to reach consensus (cf. Niu & Sternberg, 2001).
Figure 4 shows the average number of high-quality analogies
and the subsets that were novel for each of the four conditions.
Walking had a strong effect on creative production whether in-
doors or out. Table 1 provides a series of ANOVAs at the various
coding levels. They each cross walking (sitting vs. walking) and
place (indoors vs. dynamic outdoors). For high-quality novel anal-
ogies, there is only an effect of walking. Of those who walked,
95% generated at least one novel high-quality analogy compared
with 50% of those who sat. When relaxing the constraint to include
low-quality novel analogies, there is a double main effect indicat-
ing that both walking and being outdoors independently increased
novelty. Thus, walking appears to prompt high structure and
novelty, whereas the outdoors seems to influence novelty.
Table 1 also indicates that walking increased general talkative-
ness as measured by the average number of separate statements.
Walking increased the tendency to talk, and people were especially
loquacious when walking outside.
The effect of walking on relational structure was surprisingly
apparent in the most creative analogies, which had a recursive
quality. Using a post hoc coding scheme, we identified responses
where the main object in the response played two roles. Given the
prompt “a robbed safe,” a recursive response was “a father abusing
his young daughter.” The source of protection is also the violator
of the protected. Appendix B provides more details. There is a
strong main effect of walking on increased recursive analogies, but
there is no effect of location. This makes some sense in that
outdoor stimulation provides topics for creative ideas, but it seems
less likely to offer up a recursive or relational structure for those
Walking led to an increase in analogical creativity. Walking,
rather than being outdoors, was the driver of novel, high-quality
Figure 4. Mean number of high-quality and high-quality novel analogies
by condition. Quality analogies refer to the full height of the bar, whereas
novel refers to the subset that was unique to the sample. Error bars are
standard errors of the mean.
analogies. While research indicates that being outdoors has many
cognitive benefits, walking has a very specific benefit—the im-
provement of creativity.
The advantage of walking for highly structured analogies ap-
peared for both the a priori coding scheme of high-quality analo-
gies and for the emergent scheme for recursive analogies. The
increased talkativeness that comes with walking may have con-
tributed. People talked through the base prompts, iterating to find
the deep structure of the prompt. This set the stage for retrieving
an analogy that matched the deep structure. A transcript provides
a sense of the typical process. The following participant was
working on the prompt “a robbed safe.”
The idea is of something that is protected that is supposed to be safe
that is being violated. So it’s the loss of something protected and
cherished. The idea is of something that is taken away. It’s in a safe
so it’s something of value that needs to be protected. So...theloss
of innocence. The loss of liberty.
One concern is that being rolled in a wheelchair is unusual and
may have suppressed creativity. The wheelchair did not seem to
bother or overly intrigue participants. A future experiment should
test other ways of moving people through the environment (e.g., a
slow golf cart). Regardless, these results do not imply that people
who require wheelchairs cannot partake of the benefits found here.
Walking is only one way to engage in mild exercise. For example,
rolling oneself in a wheelchair may be equally effective.
General Discussion
Walking substantially enhanced creativity by two different mea-
sures. For the three alternate uses studies, 81%, 88%, and 100% of
participants were more creative walking than sitting. For the BSE,
100% of those who walked outside generated at least one novel
high-quality analogy compared with 50% of those seated inside.
Walking worked indoors on a treadmill and outdoors at a bustling
Walking is an easy-to-implement strategy to increase appropri-
ate novel idea generation. When there is a premium on generating
new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate
walks. In addition to providing performance benefits, it would
address concerns regarding the physiological effects of inactivity
(Hamilton, Healy, Dunstan, Zderic, & Owen, 2008;. Hamilton,
Hamilton, & Zderic, 2007). While schools are cutting back on
physical education in favor of seated academics, the neglect of the
body in favor of the mind ignores their tight interdependence, as
demonstrated here.
Theoretically, we can eliminate several explanations for the
results. First, the effect cannot be due to real-time competition
between physical and mental activity for shared cognitive re-
sources, although this does occur. For instance, one study showed
a dual-task cost for 60-year-olds walking a difficult obstacle
course while performing a word-recall task (Li et al., 2001). Here,
when people sat down after walking, they continued to be more
creative even though they no longer needed to attend to walking.
Second, the residual effects also block an embodied account,
because when seated after walking, there were no longer moving
legs to semantically prime cognition. Third, the causal pathway is
likely to differ from the mechanisms that translate exercise into
global protective factors for cognition. Walking was selectively
beneficial for divergent thinking, not convergent thinking. Finally,
the effect is not due to the external flow of stimulation that
normally occurs with walking. Walking on a treadmill facing a
blank wall improved creativity.
How, then, might one explain the effect of walking? The expla-
nation will eventually comprise a complex causal pathway that
extends from the physical act of walking to physiological changes
to the proximal cognitive processes. These studies eliminated
alternatives but did not isolate mechanisms. Nevertheless, it may
be useful to consider each link in the chain with the results in hand.
Walking constitutes the first part of the causal chain. Is it
walking per se, or would other forms of mild physical activity have
similar elevating effects? Moreover, it may be the mind-freeing
quality of engaging in a comfortable task (e.g., knitting), rather
than exercise. A second issue is the manner of walking. We asked
people to walk at their natural gait. When people walk outside their
natural stride, it demands more cognitive control (Brisswalter,
Durand, Delignieres, & Legros, 1995). Whether these mild atten-
tional demands or more aerobic walking would detract is un-
known. A third question considers the context of walking. Walking
outdoors on a busy campus did not significantly increase appro-
priate novelty compared with walking indoors, although the more
varied stimulation did appear to increase novelty. This suggests
that walking may be effective in many locations that do not have
acute distractions. The social context also needs investigation.
Participants were encouraged to talk aloud to a friendly researcher.
Will the effects generalize to solitary walks?
Leg movement and external stimulation were not direct causes
of increased creativity, given the residual effects of walking when
seated. This implicates biological mediators that may range from
circulatory to chemical changes. Mood is also a possible mediator.
Physical exercise is linked to mood enhancement (Rethorst, Wip-
Table 1
Means (SD) and Factorial Results for Novelty, Alfresco, High-Quality Novel, and Recursive Analogies by Condition
Indoors Dynamic outdoors Main effect F(1, 36) Interaction F(1, 36)
Sitting Walking Sitting Walking Sit vs. walk In vs. out 2 2
Ideation 13.20 (5.20) 13.70 (3.56) 12.00 (4.06) 19.80 (7.51) 6.12
2.13 4.73
High-quality novel analogies 0.60 (0.70) 2.10 (1.79) 1.50 (1.35) 2.40 (1.35) 7.83
1.96 0.49
Novel 3.50 (2.17) 5.30 (2.00) 4.90 (2.28) 9.30 (5.27) 9.21
Recursive 1.10 (1.10) 2.00 (0.94) 1.10 (1.29) 2.40 (1.51) 8.04
0.27 0.27
Note. F test comparisons for analysis of variance factorial.
p .05.
p .01.
fil, & Landers, 2009), and an increase in positive mood might in
turn improve divergent thinking (Bar, 2009; Chermahini & Hom-
mel, 2012). The meta-analysis by Baas, De Dreu, and Nijstad
(2008) revealed that positive mood states correlate with higher
creativity; however, other research has shown that negative emo-
tions can lead to increased artistic creativity (see review by Aki-
nola & Mendes, 2008). Compared with taking physiological mea-
sures, folding in mood assessments may be a simpler first step for
future studies (e.g., Steinberg et al., 1997).
Finally, there are the proximal cognitive mechanisms that pro-
duce greater creativity. Walking had a strong influence on the
expression of associative memory. People presented more ideas,
and the ideas tapped each person’s unique associative network,
which led to an increase in novelty compared with other people’s
One possible explanation is that walking taxed executive func-
tion to handle the dual-task nature of walking while thinking, and
a side effect of this distraction was that it allowed more creativity
to seep in. This seems unlikely given that creativity performance
was resilient to mild distractions that require executive function
management. When comparing across experiments, people’s GAU
performance walking outdoors was similar to participants’ perfor-
mance walking on a treadmill in a stimulus-impoverished room. In
Experiment 4, walking outdoors also yielded descriptively more
complex relational structure than walking inside.
Moreover, the evidence that walking had general effects on
executive function is mixed. People performed somewhat more
poorly on the working-memory-intensive CRA task when walking,
but people also produced more cognitively demanding recursive
structures for the BSE. It is unknown whether the modest decline
in CRA performance in Experiment 1 (d 0.38) had a functional
relation to the larger increase in creativity (d 0.70). A useful
study would determine if CRA performance remains impaired
when participants are subsequently seated after walking. If so, then
there would be evidence for a common mechanism behind the
decrease in CRA and the increase in GAU performance. Alterna-
tively, CRA performance may bounce back when participants are
subsequently seated, which would indicate that the CRA is sensi-
tive to mild distractions (Cranford & Moss, 2012; De Dreu, Ni-
jstad, Baas, Wolsinki, & Roskes, 2012) including walking, but
unrelated to performance on the GAU, which remained elevated
when participants were subsequently seated.
An alternative explanation specifically emphasizes the regula-
tion of associative memory. For instance, Mackey, Whitaker, and
Bunge (2012) found that training for the Law School Admission
Test (LSAT) increased connectivity between prefrontal and pari-
etal regions, with the hypothesized consequence of aiding people’s
abilities to down-regulate associative memories. (Suppressing ev-
eryday knowledge is important for staying within the bounds of the
stated premises of an LSAT problem.) Conversely, walking may
relax suppression of memories, which would yield increased as-
sociative ideation (see Chrysikou & Thompson-Schill, 2011). This
would open the “flexibility pathway” of the dual pathway creativ-
ity model (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008; De Dreu, Baas, &
Nijstad, 2008; Nijstad, De Dreu, Rietzschel, & Baas, 2010). These
authors have argued that unlike the “persistence pathway,” the
flexibility pathway does not require strong cognitive control (also
see Dreisbach & Goschke, 2004; Martindale, 1995), which can
help explain why any modest dual-task demands of walking did
not interfere with ideation.
A related explanation is that walking may have increased the
activity of associative memory. Executive function can set con-
straints on acceptable retrieval and filter retrieved ideas. However,
associative memory has to provide the candidate ideas. Walking
may have increased the ease with which associative memories
activated, for example, by relaxing inhibitory competition among
memories and allowing ideas with low levels of activation to push
through. If true, then we should expect walking to enhance per-
formance on tasks that are otherwise marked by the dominance of
single memories, as in the case for functional fixedness (e.g.,
Thompson-Schill, Ramscar, & Chrysikou, 2009) and other Ein-
stellung effects.
Clearly, there are a number of theoretical and practical direc-
tions available, now that the basic demonstration is in hand. In the
meantime, many people anecdotally claim they do their best think-
ing when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward
discovering why.
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(Appendices follow)
Appendix A
Examples of Responses and Respective Codes for Barron’s Base Analogs
Three prompts used in Experiment 4
Robbed safe Budding cocoon Light bulb blowing out
Vague “the idea is you have something precious to
protect but then someone tries to steal it”
“anything that has to do with
growing or beginning”
“an explosive thing that happened
and leaves you in darkness”
Precise “pyramid that’s been ransacked by tomb
“pregnant woman giving
“lightening hitting a tree”
Near “robbed bank” “hatching egg” “candle blowing out”
Far “cheating on a partner” “grand opening of a
restaurant opening its
“Emirates Stadium when an
Arsenal player scores in
Relational structure
Low structure “studying for the test after it’s happened” “tadpoles” “getting shot and dying”
High structure “honey being taken out of a bee’s nest—
“idea that’s on the tip of the
tongue about to come out”
“love—intense passionate
relationship that burned really
brightly but it was SO bright
that it couldn’t last so burns
really brightly but flickers out”
High-quality analogies
Specific, far, high
“cheating off someone on a test” “coming out of a meditation
“throwing up while you’re
Recursively high
“soldier coming back from war with severe
PTSD” (self is stolen of self)
“apprentice coming out of the
shadows of his master”
(self causes self to emerge)
“flooding of water that rushes
over the riverbank” (self
extinguishes self)
Appendix B
Recursion Rubrics and Responses
For a robbed safe, there were three types of recursive structures:
1. The contents themselves are fleeing or leaving the space
of protection.
empty bus to the bus driver after kids peel out
2. The space of protection itself is being taken, or the thing
you are losing is also the thing that is protecting you.
banished dog
3. The protector is also the thief or the violator.
sex abuse of a father to younger girl
For a light bulb blowing out:
1. The light going out causes other lights to go out, or the
breakage causes other breaking.
a student under high academic pressure unfortunately
going on a Columbine-type style shooting rampage
2. Turning on a light blows out other lights.
a completed Hail Mary pass in the Superbowl to win
the game; you’ve extinguished somebody’s hopes
3. The source of the power gets rid of the power itself
instead of the source of power getting rid of the light.
a nuclear reactor melting down
For a budding cocoon:
1. The thing that is changing is the cocoon or “wrapper” itself.
losing virginity
2. Cocoon creates itself, or the object of change is becom-
ing the cocoon that buds.
dust in the cosmos surrounding each other with infinite
possibilities, there are stabilities there that aid in the
formation of life and solar system, couldn’t have hap-
pened without certain conditions 3.
The cocoon is what is creating the thing that is budding out,
or the cocoon is the engine of transformation, rather than just
a protective casing.
an apprentice coming out of the shadows of his master
Received August 5, 2013
Revision received February 24, 2014
Accepted March 4, 2014


This highly cited work by Kramer, Erickson & Colcombe is worth a read: From the abstract: >"We provide a brief review of the literature on exercise effects on brain and cognition. To this end, we focus on both prospective and retrospective human epidemiological studies that have examined the influence of exercise and physical activity on cognition and dementia. We then examine the relatively small set of human randomized clinical trials that have, for the most part, focused on exercise training effects on cognition. Next, we discuss animal research that has examined the molecular, cellular, and behavioral effects of exercise training. Finally, we conclude with a summary and brief discussion of important future directions of research on fitness cognition and brain. much as been written over the ages about the benefits of exercise and physical activity. For example, Marcus Tullius Cicero stated, in ∼65 BC, that “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor” ( [41]( ). Somewhat more recently, in the mid-1760s, John Adams, the second president of the United States, suggested that “Exercise invigorates, and enlivens all the faculties of body and of mind… It spreads a gladness and satisfaction over our minds and qualifies us for every sort of business, and every sort of pleasure” ( [14]( ). Clearly, however, not all opinions from politicians, philosophers, writers and others concerning exercise and physical activity have been positive. For example, Mark Twain, a literary giant of the 19th century, expressed his disdain for exercise in the statement “I️ take my only exercise acting as Pallbearer at the funerals of my friends who exercise regularly” ( [36]( ). Similarly, Henry Ford, the early 20th century industrialist and automotive designer, stated that “Exercise is bunk. If you are healthy, you don’t need it, and if you are sick, you shouldn’t take it” . " > "Creativity has a number of positive benefits, so there are reasons to increase it. Creativity is implicated in workplace success, healthy psychological functioning, and the maintenance of loving relationships. Of course, creativity is also valued for its potential contributions to society." In case you needed a ted talk from one of the authors about the paper! [Marily Oppezzo: Want to be more creative? Go for a walk | TED Talk]( Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900) famously used walking as part of his writing and creativity process throughout his career. During one period of his life, around the time of writing The Wanderer and His Shadow, he said this: “I️ would walk for six or eight hours a day, composing thoughts that I️ would later jot down on paper.” Later in life, he would go on to say: “Sit as little as possible; do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement — in which the muscles do not also revel… Sitting still… is the real sin against the Holy Ghost.” More on Nietzsche and walking: Evaluating creativity in order to quantify the effect of the walking intervention is crucial. There are two widely accepted creativity tasks for evaluating creativity discussed here: Guilford's alternate uses test and Barron's symbolic equivalence test, both from the early 1960s. > "Walking made people more loquacious. Walking however did not increase creativity simply because people talked more. For each participant, we divided the number of creative ideas (appropriate novel) by the total ideation to compute density scores. When walking, people had a creative use for 3.0 out of every 10 generated uses compared with 2.5 out of every 10 uses when sitting. Thus, when walking, people were more talkative, and more of their talk included creative ideas." > "Walking again increased people’s creative production on the GAU. Practice cannot explain the effects. On their first try, people who walked did better than those who sat, and those who only sat did not improve across trials. Walking also exhibited a residual effect on creativity. After people walked, their subsequent seated creativity was much higher than those who had not walked. This latter finding has practical and theoretical significance. Practically, taking a walk immediately before a brainstorming session should help improve one’s performance. Theoretically, the effect of walking does not appear to result from a semantic association between action and thought. People do not need to move their legs at the same time as they generate alternate uses." "Embodied" dependency of semantic concepts on physical activity is brought up in the 1989 paper: "Can you squeeze a tomato? The role of motor representations in semantic sensibility judgments", found here: Here is the abstract: > Five experiments assessed whether priming a hand shape facilitated judgments about the sensibility of actions performed with objects. Primes specified the hand shape's size (full hand or part) and whether operative fingers were flexed or extended. These dimensions define four prototypical shapes: pinch (part, flexed), poke (part, extended), clench (full, flexed), and palm (full, extended). Primes were verbal in Experiments 1–3 and “iconic” in Experiments 4–5. In Experiments 1–4, subjects were initially trained to enact the shape, given a prime. They then judged the sensibility of verbal action/object pairs, such as “eat a carrot,” which were preceded by a neutral or informative prime. Response times were consistently reduced, relative to the neutral condition, when both dimensions of the hand shape were primed. In Experiment 5, subjects were trained to vocalize a hand-shape label, given a prime, and no priming effect subsequently occurred. These results suggest a cognitive/motoric representation of the hand with which actions on objects can be modeled, and the results can be interrogated.