Getting away from it all can unclutter the brain and boost creativity, a study suggests.

Scientists found that young volunteers increased their creative performance by 50% after a four-day hiking trip.

The results support earlier studies suggesting that escaping to nature can improve mental abilities.

Experts think being far from the madding crowd may liberate the brain by removing the myriad distractions of modern life.

US psychologist and study leader David Strayer, from the University of Utah, said: "Writers for centuries have talked about why interacting with nature is important, and lots of people go on vacations. But I don't think we know very well what the benefits are from a scientific perspective."


The study, reported in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, involved 56 men and women with an average age of 28.

Participants took part in four to six-day wilderness backpacking trips in Alaska, Colorado, Maine and Washington state.

No electronic devices of any sort were allowed on the trips.

One group of volunteers were given a standard test for creative thinking before starting their hike. Another had the same test after hiking for four days.

The Remote Associates Test (RAT) presents participants with 10 sets of three words. For each set, the person taking the test has to come up with a fourth word connected to the other three.

For instance, the connecting word for "same, tennis and head" is "match".

PICTURES: Scroll to see British walks that will boost your brain

The average test score for volunteers taking the test before heading into the wilderness was 4.14 out of 10. Those tested four days into their hike scored an average of 6.08.

The effect may not be due to nature as such, but freeing the brain from constant distractions, say the scientists.

Too much multitasking is thought to place excessive demands on "executive attention" - the ability to switch between tasks, focus on a task and shut out distracting thoughts and actions.

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

Children in countries such as the US and UK now spend just 15 to 25 minutes a day outdoors playing or taking part in sport, said the scientists.

The average eight to 18-year-old is believed to devote more than 7.5 hours a day to TVs, mobile phones and computers.

Previous work has shown that hiking can improve proofreading and the ability to repeat a list of numbers backwards. But these studies did not test creativity in the same way as the new research, Professor Strayer pointed out.

He said: "This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn't been formally demonstrated before.

"It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature."

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