Monday, December 17, 2012

Pardon me if I don't get up/a peek inside my email inbox

Lousy day here in Bad Data Bad-land.  I stayed home from work today because my throat feels like it's been attacked by razor blades, and in my Nyquil induced haze, I fell down the stairs.   I'm hopeful that I didn't break anything, but standing/walking/sitting hurts WAY more than it should.

Luckily I still have pain meds left over from my c-section, so that's a consolation.

If I start slurring my typing by the end of this, you'll know what happened.

One of the reasons I love the internet is my family's habit of sending all family emails about random subjects.  The immediate family is 6 + 2 spouses, so the 8 person email chain can get a little amusing.  A few days ago, my mother, who is forever scolding us to get outside more often, forwarded us this article on how hiking boosts creativity.  My brother, a biology teacher, was the first to respond with this:

Love it, but before I love it too much . . .Bethany, could we get an analysis of this creativity test?

I've apparently got them all a little nervous when it comes to research now.

Anyway, being the good sister that I am, I thought I'd take a look at the data.  Essentially, the study took a group of people headed on an Outward Bound hiking excursion and gave them a creativity test.  Then it took another group of people, sent them out hiking, and gave them a creativity test after they'd been in the wilderness for about 4 days.  Those out in nature for several days did better to a statistically significant level.

The creativity levels were measured using the Remote Associates Test, which is a test that gives people 3 words and asks them to find the common word that ties them together (ex: falling actor dust*).

Overall, I thought it was an interesting and unique study, definitely one that deserves follow up with a larger sample size and some other variables.  The authors hypothesized that the boost in creativity was due to either technology deprivation or nature exposure, but also noted that:
A limitation to the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, to a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature. In the majority of real-world multi-day hiking experiences, the exposure to nature and technology are inversely related and we cannot determine if one factor has more influence than another. From a scientific perspective, it may prove theoretically important to understand the unique influences of nature and technology on creative problem solving; however, from a pragmatic perspective these two factors are often so strongly interrelated that they may be considered to be different sides of the same coin. We suggest that attempts to meaningfully dissociate the highly correlated real-world effects of nature and technology may be like asking Gestalt psychologists whether figure or ground is more important in perceptual grouping.
I would be interested to see a follow up that addressed if this were related specifically to nature, or if it was true of any is people's creativity 3 days in to a cruise?

It was definitely a fascinating study, IMHO.  Daniel, permission to love it has been granted.

I'm going to go lay down now, very gently.

*answer: star 


  1. I am curious about the participants prior technology usage habits (TV, iphones, gaming?). But, for now, I'll love it!

  2. Hmm, my answer (falling actor dust) was 'Shakespeare' because I immediately thought of an actor in an old theater falling melodramatically in a cloud of dust at the penultimate moment of a play. I guess I must not be creative enough, or maybe I'm just too literal. My first inclination, is to think that modern artificial life is stultifying and that being in Nature is more, um, natural. Don't know how you'd go proving it one way or the other though. Still, great study!

    1. I also may not have explained the test very well.

      There was a really interesting part of the paper that talked about a theory that nature returns our brain to a more natural state and that might increase creativity....but they admitted that's a theory as not a lot of research has been done on this (of course that's mostly because this is a very recent problem).

  3. Nature, in that sense, would be the world of concrete objects rather than theoretical constructs and artificial arrangements. When walking, distances are "real," at least to our evolutionarily-developed brain, rather than annihilated by speedy machines.

    Even if the effect is real and measurable, however, it doesn't tell us whether it is good or not. One can say, following that old fraud Thoreau (did you know he lit a forest fire to watch his neighbors struggle with it?), that getting all that modern life confusion out of our brains is good for us and helps us think more clearly. Or one can say that is simply rubbish, the excuse of someone who can't keep up with the pace and thinking required.

    As for the test, Jan had a very creative understanding of the rules, didn't she? Makes you think.

    1. The other issue with nature vs modern life is the idea of the transition itself being good for us.

      I've heard reasonable arguments that relaxation that engages us in an unfamiliar but active direction is good for brain function. I'm wondering if sticking someone out in nature for a couple months would diminish the extra creativity.

      I liked Jan's interpretation. It was very picturesque.

  4. I can think of many other variables that would need to be controlled for in this study:

    1) The amount of mosquito saliva injected
    2) The amount of UV ray exposure (on both skin and retina)
    3) Absorption of various compounds in sunscreen
    4) Absorption of compounds in insect repellant
    5) Level of gorp consumption
    6) Dehydration (dessication of nervous tissue)

    And that's just for starters. My goodness -- I'm a communication major and I can tell the difference between correlation and causation and what you can and can't suppose. ;-)

    1. I thought you of all people would have realized that "cider consumption" needs to be added to that list.

      Also, the thought of ever seeing the line "controlled for mosquito saliva injection levels" in a paper made me actually laugh out loud.