One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing. In one study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced. Other studies by Ulrich, Kim, and Cervinka show that time in nature or scenes of nature are associated with a positive mood, and psychological wellbeing, meaningfulness, and vitality.
Furthermore, time in nature or viewing nature scenes increases our ability to pay attention. Because humans find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature. This also provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.
In another interesting area, Andrea Taylor’s research on children with ADHD shows that time spent in nature increases their attention span later.
Even just looking at photos of nature in a quiet room has a greater cognitive boost than walking down a busy urban street.
“In a follow-up study, the researchers had participants take a break for 10 minutes in a quiet room to look at pictures of a nature scene or city street.
Again, they found that cognitive performance improved after the nature break, even though it was only on paper. Although the boost wasn’t as great as when participants actually took the walk among the trees, it was more effective than the city walk, says Dr. Berman.”
You may actually not even have to enjoy the park, botanical garden, or arboretum to get the benefit. Dr. Berman said: “You don’t necessarily have to enjoy the walk to get the benefit. What you like is not necessarily going to be good for you.”
For them, just looking at images of nature engages “our so-called involuntary attention", which comes into play when our minds are inadvertently drawn to something interesting that doesn’t require intense focus, like a pleasing picture or landscape feature.
We can still talk and think while noticing the element.” In contrast, walking down a busy street is exhausting over long periods because we are on the look out for cars and bicyclists, and people bumping into us.
Researchers led by Vrije University Medical Centre in the Netherlands recruited 46 participants in an experiment designed to see how looking at images containing nature could settle a person's nerves. Participants outfitted with sensors to monitor their heart rate and stress levels had to complete mathematical problems on a computer, with the test set to function at both normal and stress-inducing levels. After this, they would view one of two series of pictures.
Both image sets depicted urban environments, but one showed environments containing greenery amongst buildings, while the other showed a more stark setting, devoid of any natural flora.
The findings, reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, suggest that keeping a few snapshots of greenery around your work desk might not be a bad idea.
When participants viewed the natural images in the experiment, their stress levels lowered, thanks to the activation of their parasympathetic nervous system – which controls certain rest functions.