Here are some depressing numbers: the average 8-18 year old in America only spends 15-25 minutes a day in outdoor play or sports, while spending 7.5 hours a day soaked in media from TV, computers, and cell phones. It’s easy to see how people can make a case for something like Nature Deficit Disorder.

But it’s not all bad news – a new study by the University of Utah and the University of Kansas found that spending time in the wilderness away from electronics may make you a more creative thinker. After spending four days on a backpacking trip, participants in the study scored a full 50% better on a ten-question creativity test than they did before lacing up their boots.

From the psychologists themselves:

“Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television, etc.) that hijack attention. “By contrast, natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.”

The researchers were quick to note that the tests didn’t actually show whether it was the immersion in nature, the lack of electronic distractions, or a combination of the two that resulted in the boost in creativity – but I’m sure it’s something we’ve all felt before, either on the trail or after coming home. I know when I’ve got a particularly tough thing to mull over, taking a nice long walk in the mountains is a great way to just open my mind up to process it WITHOUT guzzling coffee and banging my head against a desk.

As is usually the case, John Muir said it best when he said “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”


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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, Adventure Journal, the REI Blog, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub.

He has also been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press, as well as in documentaries for Columbia Sportswear and the OTIS College of Art and Design.

Casey was one of eight people chosen by the National Parks Foundation to participate in the 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. His first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles," will be published by Mountaineers Books in 2016.

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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on December 13, 2012

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